Sustainability and health concerns are driving consumers to plant-based meat alternatives, but the taste experience of these products continues to fall short, according to research carried out by Kerry, the world's leading taste and nutrition company.
In 2022, Kerry carried out research with over 1,500 consumers across four countries – US, UK, Australia, and Brazil – to uncover sensory expectations around plant-based burgers and cheese alternative slices. The research found that flexitarians, the key consumer group driving the growth of plant-based, are more critical of products than vegan and vegetarian consumers. While sustainability is a top driver, consumers are unwilling to compromise on taste and seek products that are as close to the taste experience of animal products as possible.
The research uncovered the main drivers across key markets, as well as the attributes that consumers seek when purchasing plant-based burgers. Kerry's research uncovered the following:
A total of 60% of UK consumers started eating plant-based products because they are considered 'healthier' and 76% will buy a plant-based burger described as 'authentic chargrilled-tasting'.
63% of US consumers started eating plant-based products because they believe plant-based is 'better for the planet'. A total of 80% of US consumers are likely to buy a plant-based burger that is 'rich and savory'.
51% of Australian consumers continue to buy plant-based due to a better environmental impact, with 78% expecting a burger that caramelizes and browns during cooking to be delicious.
In Brazil, the benchmark is making beef burgers from scratch and seasoning them to their liking. A total of 67% of Brazilian consumers continue to buy plant-based because they are committed to improving their own (or their family's) overall health.
Taste as a gateway
Although beef is the benchmark, consumer expectations for plant-based burgers go beyond just the taste experience and are higher. Consumers desire products with improved succulence and a 'bite' that feels as close to meat as possible. They also seek cooking cues such as charring which signals that a burger is perfectly cooked and safe to eat and want meat alternatives with improved nutrition.
Commenting on the findings, Fiona Sweeney, strategic marketing director at Kerry, said, "The need for a great taste experience is universal. For plant-based foods, which are often chosen by consumers as a more sustainable option, ensuring great taste can be a gateway to delivering innovative and sustainable nutrition solutions for consumers around the world. However, ensuring a great taste experience - involving a full sensorial experience of sight, sound, and texture - is highly complex and in plant-based foods, it is inherently more challenging because the bar is set high with meat and dairy as the benchmark."
"The flexitarian consumer, the key consumer group driving category growth in plant-based foods across the world, is actively trying to reduce their meat and dairy consumption. However, as they still eat meat and dairy products, their plant-based taste expectations are driven by these experiences. Overall, our research found that flexitarians are more critical of the plant-based products currently available on the market. Delivering great taste, along with improved nutrition and sustainability credentials, will be key to success in this category.
"We partner with our customers to create a world of sustainable nutrition, which is led by our expertise in taste. Our understanding and expertise in developing market-leading, consumer appealing plant-based solutions combined with a deeper sensory understanding can help you fine-tune product development, unlock category growth, and create something truly satisfying, innovative, and market-leading."
The findings are contained in a series of eBooks published by Kerry, which contains actionable opportunities for the industry to address consumers' current expectations and future unmet needs.