LAS VEGAS — Despite the accelerated pace of innovation in the market for dairy and meat alternatives, there remain areas of opportunity for manufacturers to capitalize on, said Geri Berdak, president and founder of the CloverQuest Group, a consultancy focused on the wellness category. Ms. Berdak spoke Oct. 16 during the SupplySide West trade show that took place in Las Vegas Oct. 15-19.
Ms. Berdak emphasized it is still early days in the dairy and meat alternative markets, and that opportunities exist to improve products and bring them into alignment with consumer expectations.
“Looking at where consumer expectations are against products that are currently available, there are some gaps that I see,” she said. “No. 1, there has been progress made in alternative product texture and taste, but there is a ways to go.”
Past iterations of alternative products were formulated for vegan and vegetarian consumers, people who are willing to compromise on taste in order to adhere to their values. As manufacturers have shifted their focus to meet the expectations of flexitarian consumers, product quality expectations have been raised.
Ms. Berdak said there also is a disconnect between consumer expectations regarding clean label and many products currently available.
“If you look at products on the market, they can have anywhere from 15 to 20 ingredients,” she said. “So, creating products that are more label friendly is an opportunity. And it’s not just about creating label-friendly products. The ingredients need to be cupboard-sounding.”
To illustrate her point, she showed a slide featuring the ingredients panels of a meat patty sourced from grass-fed beef, the Impossible Burger from Impossible Foods and the Beyond Burger from Beyond Meat.
“You see the difference in terms of listed ingredients — it’s significant,” she said. “And some of those ingredients (in the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger) aren’t pronounceable.”
She went on to compare the nutrition profiles of each product.
“Calories are pretty equal, but I think the consumer perceives a plant-based meat alternative to be lower in calories,” she said. “So, I would look for ways to lower the caloric content of these (alternative) patties.”
Ms. Berdak then showed a side-by-side comparison of a dairy-based yogurt and a plant-based yogurt. A key difference in nutrition profile was the dairy-based yogurt had 12 grams of protein while the plant-based alternative only had one. She called the lack of protein in the plant-based yogurt a “miss” and said consumers were being forced to make a tradeoff.
She also encouraged product developers to look beyond creating alternative products equal to their animal-based counterparts.
“What additional benefits might you consider adding?” she asked. “We have to talk about elevating plant-based alternatives.”
Options may include the addition of functional ingredients such as omega-3 fatty acids or adhering to an environmental standard as a point of differentiation.