Designing Plant-based Foods for Foodservice

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A new consumer survey identifies five key plant-based food and beverage insights for foodservice operators in Europe

KerryDigest Fast Facts:
  • Foodservice outlets are entering the rapidly expanding plant-based food market.
  • To explore consumer opinion on current offerings and market gaps in plant-based foods, Kerry’s European foodservice team conducted a multi-country study.
  • Consumers were asked about plant-based food preferences and behaviours.
  • The findings from this study revealed several plant-based food and beverage insights that can help brands create on-trend products.

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KerryDigest Full Scoop:

As reported in “The Global State of the Plant-based Protein Market”, plant-based foods are undergoing a surge in growth around the world, thanks to increasing consumer demand for delicious and healthy foods that are also environmentally sustainable. Foodservice outlets are beginning to offer products that capitalise on this interest in vegan and vegetarian products, but are they hitting the mark?

To answer this question and others, including why consumers purchase plant-based foodservice products and what types of products they want most, Kerry’s recently conducted European foodservice study covered:

  • motivations for eating plant-based foods
  • perceptions of meat-free offerings in foodservice outlets
  • perceptions of plant-based food benefits compared to meat proteins

In total, 1,000 consumers across six markets were surveyed, including those from Germany, the UK, France, Spain, Finland and Sweden. When asked to specify diet, 32% of respondents said they were vegan, 35% considered themselves vegetarian and 33% said they were flexitarian. Consumers were also asked about behaviours, including eating occasions, in-home and out-of-home consumption patterns and frequency of plant-based food consumption. The following five key insights were derived from the findings of this plant-based food survey. Consider these when ideating or reformulating plant-based foods for foodservice.


Insight #1: Feed Consumers’ Caring and Curious Nature
From buzz-worthy Netflix documentaries to Google searches, consumers are actively expanding their knowledge and understanding of food. This is guiding what they consume, including whether or not they eat meat. The information consumers seek varies, from animal welfare to nutrition to a product’s origin story. As consumers become more engaged and proactive about food and drink choices, the back-story and information around the food and drink they consume is becoming more important.

The decision to consume fewer animal products is inspired by a variety of and influences, according to our research: 41% of respondents cited “personal research” as a key driver with social media and family and friends also playing significant roles in people’s decision-making process. Fitness influencers, environmental activists, Instagram channels, YouTube videos and educational documentaries are all examples of wider cultural and media trends that also have an impact on consumer behaviour and attitudes towards food and drink.

Turn this insight into action:

  • Through social media, website content and more, foodservice operators can champion their plant protein products. This includes highlighting key ingredients, product health benefits as well as stories that showcase sustainability and environmental action.
  • Continue to stay up-to-date with consumer trends and market movements by monitoring social media influencers.

Insight #2: Cater to Your Current Customers
The small percentage of consumers who are self-proclaimed vegans and vegetarians may be more likely to dine at speciality restaurants that focus on meat-free cuisine. However, amongst flexitarians, who are the consuming a growing amount of plant-based foods and already in the habit of visiting restaurants that serve animal products, there is a lot of openness to eating vegan and vegetarian food in restaurants that serves meat.

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In our study, half of respondents said they are likely to eat at a restaurant that serves meat when seeking vegan or vegetarian food. Many such outlets have launched plant protein products in recent months, and as the industry better learns to work with the application, improvements are being made and recognised.

Four out of five consumers in our study thought foodservice operators have only improved their vegan and vegetarian offerings. This shows consumers are paying attention and, while there is still plenty of room for innovation and improvements, product offerings are generally moving in the right direction.

Turn this insight into action:

  • Traditionally meat-focused outlets can elevate their plant-based offerings to become more relevant to all consumers and more appetising, specifically, to the flexitarians already in their establishments.
  • Our recent report on the global plant-based food market found that flexitarian consumers preferred plant proteins that resembled meat products while vegan and vegetarian consumers wanted plant products that tasted like and had the texture of plants.

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Insight #3: Get the Messaging Right
Taste is the top decision maker for consumers, but people are also increasingly concerned about the ingredients in the products they eat. However, there are multiple ways to announce the same set of ingredients. For example, a product may technically be “vegan” or “vegetarian”, but our study suggests that these labels are less appealing to the larger flexitarian consumer base than the term “plant-based”.


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“Plant-based” evokes the idea of a product that is natural and healthy. Consumer insights reveal this phrasing has more taste appeal than a product labelled as vegan, which may still be associated with old technologies that compromised on taste. Another key message that resonates with plant-based food consumers is “allergen-free” which was cited as appealing to around a third of all consumers in our study.

Turn this insight into action:

  • As demand for meat alternatives rises, operators need to focus on developing plant-based meat alternative items that deliver on taste.
  • Language matters. Consider using the phrase “plant-based” over labels such as "vegan" and "vegetarian" in order to capture the most taste appeal.
  • Studying this consumer segment may help brands develop products that deliver on other needs, such as for high-protein or allergen-free goods.

Insight #4: Boost Protein Credentials
Protein has been trending for years, thanks to its positive health associations. However, following a plant-based or low-meat diet can naturally reduce a person’s protein intake. As a result, consumers who are limiting their intake of animal products often want to boost their protein intake. In our study, on-pack product callouts related to protein content were relevant to 4 in 10 of all respondents.

Not surprisingly, when protein is added to plant-based products, there’s a preference for proteins to come from plant-based sources rather than animal ones. This is in part for alignment purposes, but it’s also important to note that 73% of the consumers in our study said they believe plant-based proteins are healthier than animal-based ones. Current engagement with animal alternatives is already strong in the added protein market and 72% of people surveyed indicated that they currently purchase and consume these types of products.

 

Turn this insight into action:

  • High plant-based protein content in products is a key motivator for consumers, and an opportunity for foodservice outlets.
  • There’s opportunity to dial up protein messaging on current meat alternative and plant-based menu items and offerings.

Insight #5: Inject Fun, Indulgence and Sweetness
The respondents to our survey made it clear that consumers of plant proteins still have a desire to indulge, treat and reward themselves. While the focus on health and healthy living may drive consumers to the plant-based category, it doesn’t eliminate the need for meat- and dairy-free treats. Eating out-of-home, especially, is still seen as a time to indulge, treat and reward, whether or not a person eats animal products. As a results, people are increasingly seeking high quality, tasty and indulgent plant-based options. For example, 5 in 10 consumers we surveyed said they were interested in burgers and pizzas in alternative formats.

Interest in plant-based desserts and confectionery is also high, with around 3 in 10 consumers seeking out such items. Furthermore, our research found a similar shift happening within the drinks category. A similar percentage of consumers are seeking vegan options for milkshakes, hot chocolate and coffee. The current focus on creating healthy plant-based products has created a gap in the market for indulgent plant-based beverages such as milkshakes and frappés. A range of dairy alternatives are available, but it’s worth noting that amongst respondents, the most preferred dairy alternatives for beverages were oat milk, at 23%, and almond and cashew milk, which both earned 19% of votes.

Turn this insight into action:

  • There’s an opportunity for foodservice operators to introduce more playful plant-based options in indulgent food categories such as pizza, burgers and desserts.
  • Indulgent beverage offerings that are also dairy-free are also in demand.

Whether your next step is elevating the taste profile of your foodservice brand’s plant-based food offerings or ideating indulgent dairy-free beverages or meat-free meals, contact us to learn more about consumer preferences and to partner with our chefs and scientists on product reformulation and creation.

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