Plant-based alternatives to meat, sausage and dairy products have gone mainstream. Vegan products are getting more and more retail shelf space, and are the basis for new concepts in the out of home market. According to Innova Market Insights, in the last few years products marked “plant-based” and “100 percent plant-based” have experienced annual growth of 60 percent. Market researchers prognosticate continued growth going forward, among other things through new ideas in the trend category of snacking.

The reason for the steadily rising demand for vegan products is a cultural shift in eating habits, according to Innova Market Insights, as consumers are much more careful about what they buy. They are paying more attention not only to their own health, but also to issues like sustainability, animal welfare and climate change. Hydrosol saw the potential of plant-based foods early on, and in 2014 the company marketed the first functional systems for making plant-based alternatives to cheese and sausage. Since then its portfolio of innovative product ideas has grown enormously, and today Hydrosol is an established international expert for plant-based alternatives. With the formation of the Plant-based Competence Centre the company has now bundled all of its expertise in a creative pool. Here, product managers, nutritionists, food technologists and marketing specialists develop creative concepts to address the trends in international markets. “In our stabilizing and texturing system concepts we have long combined market trend knowledge with scientific and technological understanding. Our new Plant-based Competence Center is a seedbed for innovative food concepts with high future potential, as well as a dialogue platform for our customers,” notes Hydrosol Managing Director Dr Matthias Moser.

Protein knowledge for market success
New protein sources play a key role in the development of plant-based alternatives. The success of a plant-based product depends to a large degree on how close it comes to meat products in taste and texture. Here, tradition, experience and habit remain the determining factors. Consumers will accept alternative products only if they possess the accustomed characteristics of the meat products they replace. In other words, plant-based yes, as long as it looks and tastes like animal-based. This is not anticipated to change substantially in the foreseeable future.

The choice of plant proteins is very important in meeting the expectations of consumers, as Dr Dorotea Pein, Director of Product Management at Hydrosol, explains: “A detailed knowledge of the available protein sources is essential. Not only are more and more vegan foods available, there is a wider range of plant proteins to choose from. In addition to soy there is now also a multitude of other options, from familiar sources like peas, rice and coconut to newcomers like sunflowers and rapeseed. But not every protein is suited to every application.” 

When characterizing a new protein, Hydrosol first tests its sensory and rheological properties. Other criteria are the microbiological count, allergenic potential, compliance with hygienic standards and certified processes, as well as price and availability. If the protein meets all these criteria, it goes into testing. “We’ve done hundreds of application tests and have built up a solid and growing database on the characteristics of different proteins. This wealth of experience is the foundation of our new Plant-based Competence Center,” says Dr Pein. “There, we advise customers on the ideal choice of proteins, and also on trends, flavoring and nutritional enrichment. We work closely with our sister companies, in order to supply stabilization and texturing while also addressing other aspects like the ideal micronutrient profile and trending flavor combinations. Our goal is not just to give our customers ideas for plant-based alternative products, but to deliver concepts with added value.” This is important in view of the growing world population, as the future supply of safe, affordable, appetizing foods is one of if not the central challenge of our time.

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