Plant-based foods need to become a consumer’s first choice, not an alternative


Plant-based food has taken the market by storm during the past five years, with the emergence of many international and renowned brands offering meat alternatives. 

Research by DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences with Ipsos showed a significant increase in demand for alternative proteins in key Asia-Pacific markets. In China and Thailand, the plant-based alt-meat market is expected to grow by 200 per cent, while the trend across the broader region is more than 25 per cent during the next five years.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the growth of the industry as consumers re-focused their priorities around health and wellbeing, leading many people to grow much more aware of the need to take care of their health – at the same time as re-assessing the impact on the planet of what they consume.

Many players continually developed options to cater for rapidly growing consumer demand; there is a stronger focus on taste and quality of plant-based products alongside a wider range of options available today. This was further supported by manufacturers, retailers and restaurants around the world who have contributed to the uptake.

Consumers are now seeking more creativity, flexibility, and variety in their diets by mixing up traditional meal combinations and experimenting with new flavours.

Standing out in the crowd

There are a number of ways that new brands and plant-based companies can stand out against the huge amount of activity in the alternative protein sector. 

  1. Make taste and texture enjoyable

Taste and texture are the top reasons why consumers would choose an alt-meat product.

Peanuts – the main ingredient of Haofood’s chicken – contains a very high glutamic and aspartic acid, imparting a natural umami flavour, and offering a tasty alternative to chicken with similar texture. Not only that, but it is a by-product of the huge peanut oil industry in China making it an even more sustainable ingredient.

Sustainability, nutrition and great taste need to be balanced in a good alt-meat, plant-based protein. 

  1. Ensure the product is sustainable

Plant-based alt-meat products produce a staggering 30-90 per cent less greenhouse gas than conventional meat. Not only that, but they use less water and cause less aquatic pollution than farming and processing meat.

Flexitarians – consumers who replace some meat meals with vegetarian alternatives rather than spurn meat altogether – are not just following a trend. They understand the benefits of choosing more plant-based options know they are contributing to the future of our planet. Their decision to eat alternative proteins frees up land from animal grazing, in turn helping ease the global ecological crisis, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce the antibiotic resistance of the earth’s population.

Locating and using ingredients that are the by-products of other industries can go even further to protecting the future of our planet and help alternative protein brands stand out.

  1. Consider accessibility and affordability

The cost of meat alternatives is currently typically more expensive than animal proteins. With high price points, many consumers find these alternatives out of reach, and it deters them from trying plant-based alt-meats.

Poor accessibility is another factor – increased exposure of brands and new protein categories leads to higher top-of-mind recall. So making products readily available at supermarkets and convenience stores would greatly improve the accessibility of plant-based alternatives.

  1. Generate emotional appeal

While most consumers regard plant-based foods as simply better for their health, there is little emotional connection with them. Consumers are still looking for indulgence – but without guilt – and comfort food remains culturally relevant.

We developed an alternative chicken satay nugget made from peanuts to be an on-the-go snack and comfort food with extra good emotional feel from the health and sustainability benefits. We will be launching a pork alternative in the coming months that is both true to the pork taste and healthy for consumers.

  1. Be innovative

Plant-based foods are a key area for innovation due to the sheer volume of trending diets. They can even cater to vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian consumers. Even meat companies are jumping on the bandwagon to create meat alternatives to cater to the vegetarian sector, so they can avoid losing market share to alt-protein specialists and miss out on the sugaring demand. 

Diversifying product lines allows brands to cater to all diets, to provide an inclusive indulgent experience. Consider, for example, how chocolate brands are adding dairy-free products to their range.

A true shift will come when plant-based companies no longer have to mimic meat but can produce standalone plant-based products that people enjoy without having to compare them to meat. 

As more and more consumers make an active choice to consume plant-based products, we will see a significant impact on sustainability throughout the world.

Astrid Prajogo is founder & CEO at Haofood

Astrid Prajogo of Haofood

Astrid Prajogo of Haofood

Astrid Prajogo is founder & CEO at Haofood. Her personal purpose is to make a great food company that will create a better living as far and as long as possible. "Shifting our relationship with food into a more mindful way will benefit our community and planet." To live that purpose, she is building and growing Haofood, a start-up based in Shanghai, China that develops plant-based meat.

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