How flexitarians are driving a greener food landscape

By Christian Philippsen, managing director, BENEO Asia Pacific

In recent years, the plant-based boom has become a force to be reckoned with. As of 2021, nearly one in two consumers across the globe are interested in plant-based foods and beverages1, signifying the shift from niche to mainstream for this segment of the product market. Asia, in particular, is no stranger to this green food trend, with the region expected to dominate the plant-based protein market by 2030, reaching a value of $64.8 billion2.

The key driving force behind this transition can be pinned to flexitarianism — a diet that is primarily vegetarian but occasionally includes meat and fish. BENEO’s latest plant-based consumer survey3 shows that one in four consumers globally now identify as flexitarians, and Asia is leading the way with 28% of consumers describing their diet as flexitarian4. This makes them the most important target group for manufacturers of plant-based products to effectively tap into this trend.

Knowing your consumer is half the battle won

Understanding the key motivations and expectations for plant-based purchasing are vital for product development and success in a market that is rapidly growing.

According to BENEO’s research5, approximately half of flexitarians buy alternatives to meat (45%) and dairy (49%), with almost 1 in 3 also buying plant-based sweets like chocolate (32%). Furthermore, there is room for more growth amongst flexitarian consumers, with an additional third interested in buying dairy and meat alternatives in the future and 42% wanting to explore sweets alternatives.

As for consumer expectations, it was found that the top drivers for flexitarian purchasing for meat and dairy alternatives6 boil down to how natural the ingredients used are, whether they help consumers take care of their bodies, and the variety they bring to consumer diets. Not surprisingly, taste also emerged as a key driver for repeat purchases.

Winning with taste and texture

Even though taste is an important buying incentive for flexitarians, the issue remains that 28% of Asian consumers believe plant-based food and drink tastes bland and boring7. In the past, the taste of plant proteins had a limiting effect on their appeal. However, thanks to increasing efforts in new product developments, we now have access to high quality plant proteins that deliver in both taste and texture.

One such example includes the use of wheat proteins to deliver a variety of textures in a wide range of meat-free applications. Wheat protein is also an excellent source of many essential amino acids, making it one of the most promising meat substitutes for meat-free burgers, nuggets and vegetarian sausages, just to name a few. In fact, 66% of flexitarians have said that they think wheat is an appealing plant-based source in meat and fish alternatives8.

Manufacturers can turn to ingredients like BENEO’s original BeneoPro W-Tex textured wheat protein range to meet changing market demands. It is popularly used to create meat alternatives due to its unique texture and an alveolar structure9 that allows for the development of products that retain the meaty texture and provide a juicy mouthfeel. Being freeze and thaw stable, it is ideal for challenging processing conditions, such as frozen vegan ready meals, in replacement of minced meat.

Delivering cleaner labels with rice ingredients

Besides taste and texture as a key motivator, flexitarians also lean towards products with nutritional claims that include ‘natural ingredients’, ‘low environmental impact’ and ‘additive-free’. For all plant-based applications, delivering a better nutritional profile is crucial and brands need to build their ‘better-for-you’ credentials to appeal more convincingly to flexitarians. It is therefore no surprise that on-pack messaging that re-enforces clean and cleaner label priorities is proving popular.

In alignment with this trend, BENEO’s specialty rice ingredients are ideal clean label texturising ingredients in dairy, bakery, and chocolate alternatives. BENEO’s Nutriz range, which consists of blends of dried rice syrup, rice flour and rice starch, was extended to give manufacturers more formula options and offers clean label and allergen-free ingredients. With a light colour and neutral taste, this milk powder replacement is ideal for use in dairy-free chocolate and as a bulking agent to make rice based dairy alternatives. It also enables the development of plant-based cocoa bars that provide a nice taste, good snap, smooth mouthfeel and a good melting behaviour. In addition, using Nutriz in dairy alternative drinks and desserts helps to create a smooth and full-bodied mouthfeel, similar in texture to dairy drinks.

Staying relevant in the plant-based future

Thanks to the variety of ingredients available for reformulation, there exists a wide range of meat- and dairy-alternative recipes that are now possible. Dairy-free coffee creamers, meat-free dumpling fillings, and plant-based cocoa bars are just some of the numerous options available to help manufacturers deliver exciting new textures, tastes, and plant-based formats to meet consumer expectations.

As demand for plant-based products continues to grow, driven by an upsurge in flexitarians around the globe, the time is ripe for manufacturers to remain relevant by reformulating and developing exciting new products to meet changing market needs.


1 BENEO Global Plant-Based Survey 2021 – Insites Consulting conducted an online quantitative survey in July 2021 in Spain, France, Germany, Poland, UK, US, Brazil, Australia, China and Russia: 1000 consumers/ country = 11,990 consumers in total. [48% gives a score of 7 or more on interest in plant-based nutrition N=11990]

2 Plant-Based Foods Poised for Explosive Growth, Bloomberg Intelligence Research, 2021

3 BENEO Global Plant-Based Survey 2021

4 FMCG Gurus: Health and Wellness: Plant for the Planet in 2022, February 2022

5 BENEO Global Plant-Based Survey 2021

6 BENEO Global Plant-Based Survey 2021 (Filter: Meat & Fish Consumers & Flexitarian)

7 FMCG Gurus: Health and Wellness: Plant for the Planet in 2022, February 2022

8 BENEO Global Plant-Based Survey 2021 (Filter: Meat & Fish Consumers & Flexitarian)

9 A structure composed of many very small cavities more or less ordered, like honeycomb