Sustainability and health concerns are driving Australian consumers to plant-based meat alternatives, but the taste experience of these products continues to fall short, according to research carried out by Kerry.
In 2022, Kerry carried out research with over 1,500 consumers across four countries — US, UK, Australia, and Brazil — to uncover sensory expectations around plant-based burgers, and cheese alternative slices (US and UK). The research found that flexitarians, the key consumer group driving the growth of plant-based, are more critical of products versus vegan and vegetarian consumers. While sustainability is a top driver, consumers are unwilling to compromise on taste and seek products that are as close to the taste experience of animal products as possible.
The research uncovered the main drivers in Australia, as well as the attributes that Australian consumers seek when purchasing plant-based burgers. Kerry’s research uncovered the following:
- A total of 60% of Australian consumers started eating plant-based products because they are considered ‘healthier’ and 51% continue to buy plant-based for its positive impact on the environment;
- In Australia, the benchmark is a fresh burger grilled on a BBQ or eaten in a restaurant, with 76% of consumers willing to buy a plant-based burger described as “authentic chargrilled-tasting”;
- The entire taste experience must be considered, specifically the first bite. Among Australians, 74% expect a burger with a meaty firmness to have great texture;
- The cooking process is crucial. Consumers expect to hear a sizzle sound as soon as they place the patty in the hot pan, just like with a beef burger. Not only does a sizzle create the all-important drama in the pan, it also creates positive expectations that the burger will be tasty and succulent — 62% of Australian consumers expect a burger that cooks like beef with a satisfying sizzle to be delicious.
Taste as a gateway
Although beef is the benchmark, consumer expectations for plant-based burgers go beyond just the taste experience and are in fact higher. Australian consumers desire products with improved succulence and a “bite” that feels as close to meat as possible. They also seek cooking cues such as caramelising, which signal that a burger is perfectly cooked and safe to eat, and want meat alternatives with improved nutrition.
Commenting on the findings, Kirsty Down, technical sales development director at Kerry Australia and New Zealand, said: “With plant-based foods, the demand for a great taste experience is universal. However, delivering a great taste experience involving the full sensorial experience of sight, sound and texture is highly complex and in plant-based foods it is inherently more challenging because the bar is set high with meat as the benchmark, particularly among Australia’s flexitarian consumers. The flexitarian consumer, the key consumer group driving category growth in plant-based foods across the world, is actively trying to cut their meat and dairy consumption. However, as they still eat meat and dairy products, their plant-based taste expectations are driven by these experiences. Overall, our research found that flexitarians are more critical of the plant-based products currently available on the market.
“Ease of cooking is also important for Australians as consumers are not familiar cooking with plant-based products. This presents more opportunities in convenient meal or ready prepared plant-based meals. Delivering great taste, along with convenience, improved nutrition and sustainability credentials, will be key to creating winning plant-based products consumers want.
“At Kerry, we partner with our customers to create a world of sustainable nutrition, which is led by our expertise in taste. Our understanding and expertise in developing consumer-appealing plant-based solutions combined with a deeper sensory understanding can help you fine-tune product development, unlock category growth, and create something truly satisfying, innovative and market-leading,” added Down.
The findings are contained in a series of eBooks published by Kerry, which contains actionable opportunities for the industry to address consumers’ current expectations and future unmet needs.