Do we need to drop the plant-based label?

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Food manufacturers should work harder at making plant-based foods more than just a replacement for meat
Food manufacturers should work harder at making plant-based foods more than just a replacement for meat

Related tags plant-based

Manufacturers need to move the focus away from making plant-based replacements for meat products and instead make alternatives that can stand up as desirable food in their own right, according to FMCG Gurus head of research and insight Mike Hughes.

Speaking on the Food Manufacture Live Stage at this year’s FoodEx show at the Birmingham NEC, Hughes warned the audience that food is running out and alternative proteins were key to keeping the nation fed.

Hughes also advised manufacturers to steer away from focusing too hard on create complete replacements for meat and instead on making foods that are desirable in their own right.

“Why are you trying to replicate something that people are trying to give up?” ​he asked. “With plant-based proteins, why do we focus so much on replicating something and then not just creating a food that tastes nice, is cost effective and environmentally friendly? Brands should move away from this focus.”

Pointless endeavour

Hughes argued that creating analogues is ultimately pointless if the product you’ve made is unappealing to the consumer – an example he gave was of vegan cheese his friend had eaten that ‘stuck to their teeth’.

“Doesn’t matter how sustainable it is, no-one is going to purchase it if that’s your consumption experience,”​ he explained. “And another thing – plant-based food, just call it food. If you think about phrases like substitute products, alternatives, it’s associated with compromise and the one thing consumers don’t want it compromise.

“Eating and drinking is an emotional affair, it’s meant to be an enjoyment whether you’re eating out or at home. But if you’re positioning your product as a substitute you’re almost saying right away ‘it doesn’t taste as good as the real thing – hopefully you won’t notice’. Just make foods in their own right.”

Hughes urged industry to move away from ethical elitism, the idea that vegan or plant-based products are only for people following fad diets or are young and popular online.

Plant-based ‘not for me’

“One thing I’ve always heard is ‘plant-based products aren’t for me’. Well, they are, because we are running out of food,”​ he continued. “We don’t need an ID badge at the supermarket saying you’re a flexitarian, you just go and buy plant-based food regardless. But right now it’s synonymous that you have to be a flexitarian and it’s something that’s ethically elite, it’s cool.

“You have this image of a millennial in an urban area actively blogging on social media, but if you think about the groups who tend to under consume – older consumers – they tend not to see the point of these products and that can be long established with ‘why would I eat a meat substitute?’.”

It’s these people in particular that require proteins more tailored for their needs. A product with a softer texture for example would be easier for an older consumer to digest.

“Products are associated with a premium price, but actually, meat and dairy is going up at an astronomical rate at the moment, so there’s an opportunity to target these products away from the cool and trendy people in the central business districts to the lower income family who just want to eat on a budget,”​ Hughes concluded.

“We need to address this, because we are running out of food and we need alternative protein sources. We need to create products in their own right that taste great, are affordable and suitable for everyone.”

Related topics NPD Plant-Based

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