Flexitarianism spurs the rise of meat-plant blends

11 Apr 2020

Plant-based eating is a major trend, but while consumers may want to increase plant consumption, most are not willing to shun meat entirely. Now, a growing number of manufacturers is introducing products that combine the best of both.

According to Swiss investment firm UBS, the global value of plant-based meat alternatives grew to $4.5 billion by 2018, and it expects this to rise to $85 billion by 2030 – but in Europe and North America, plant-based foods are not yet replacing a large amount of meat. Nevertheless, numerous surveys suggest consumers want to cut back, and are trying to include more plant-based foods in their diets, such as grains, legumes and vegetables.

Flexitarianism spurs the rise of meat-plant blends
Plant-based eating is a major trend - but most consumers also want meat

Hormel Foods’ Applegate brand is the latest to enter the market with a range of blended burgers, which could appeal to this dichotomy. Its new products are based on a mix of either organic beef with cauliflower, spinach, lentils and butternut squash, or organic turkey with sweet potato, great northern beans, kale and roasted onion. Later this year, it intends to launch two varieties of blended meatballs, with pork or turkey and vegetables mixed with rice or lentils respectively.

The blended products follow on from other launches, such as Debbie and Andrew’s Flexilicious brand in the UK, which makes a variety of beef sausages with 40% beef, blended with vegetables and legumes, and in the US, Raised and Rooted blended burgers from Tyson Foods and Perdue’s blended chicken and vegetable nuggets, tenders and patties.

But while the blended sector is doing something new in its overt marketing of such products, the concept of blending meat and vegetarian ingredients has been around for years.

So-called meat extenders traditionally have been used to cut the costs associated with meat ingredients, but this is no longer manufacturers’ only concern. Soy-based binders and fillers were formerly among the most common vegetarian ingredients for blended products – and especially low-fat commercial meat products – but nutritional quality and taste now are coming to the fore, with manufacturers turning to other pulses and lower protein ingredients like cereal grains and vegetables, as well as cheeses for flavour.

Nutrition is a major driver. Pea specialist Roquette, for instance, is tapping into the trend with pea fibre that can be injected into whole muscle meat to create a tenderer, juicier steak, or used in minced meat or emulsified products. Along with a range of ingredients like lupine, fava beans, wheat and rice, peas and other pulses and grains are able to cut the saturated fat content of meat while also making it more succulent.

Scelta Mushrooms provides another option with mushroom ingredients intended for use in traditional burger patties to add juiciness, and to improve nutritional profile and flavour while cutting costs.

At the moment, the blended meat concept is most well-established in the United States, but it is taking off in Europe as well. As more consumers look for ways to enjoy more plant-based foods without necessarily giving up meat, the space also avoids the technical challenges of using plant ingredients exclusively to mimic the taste and texture of meat, offering consumers a tasty – and potentially healthier and more environmentally friendly – alternative to traditional meat.

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