Innovation in plant-based meat snack alternatives

17 Feb 2020

Interest in meat snacks has risen rapidly over the past few years – but as a growing number of consumers look for plant-based foods, manufacturers have also developed a wide range of snack products that mimic meat.

Meatless jerky has become a major trend, particularly in the United States, where chewy, flavourful jerky dominates the meat snacks market. A clutch of innovative companies is producing plant-based products intended to have a taste and texture as close as possible to the real thing, using ingredients like mushrooms, seaweed, coconut, peas, beans and soy, among others. Not only are these products healthier for the consumer, being generally lower in fat and higher in fibre, they also appeal to consumers looking for guilt-free snacks in a broader environmental sense.

Innovation in plant-based meat snack alternatives
Meaty taste and texture are sought after in meat-free snacks

The trend responds to increased interest in umami flavours, too, with the rise of fermented plant-derived ingredients often used in Asian cuisine, like koji fungus, soy and seitan. Alongside shifting consumer taste preferences, fermentation also helps answer manufacturers’ demand for natural, low-sodium ingredients that can be promoted as flavourful without the need for added salt.

Meat snacks generally outsell their meat-free counterparts by a long way, with a market worth about $3 billion in the United States alone, according to Technavio Research – about three times the size of the entire plant-based meat alternatives market in the US. However, interest in meatless snacks is intense. In late 2018, for example, varieties of the Canadian vegan jerky brand, Noble Jerky, took the top three spots in the “Jerky and Meat Snacks” category on Amazon in Canada.

Many of the companies active in this space have developed their own ingredients and technologies to provide a meaty taste and texture. But major suppliers are stepping up with commodity ingredients, technologies and flavours for the plant-based meat alternative sector as the size of the opportunity has started to become clear.

ADM, for instance, has announced it will expand European production of non-GMO soy protein concentrate, citing increased interest in flexitarian diets. And in a strong signal that the trend toward plant-based eating is global, flavour giant Givaudan has partnered with Buehler to set up an innovation centre in Singapore dedicated to plant-based food. The idea is to combine Givaudan’s expertise in flavour with Buehler’s experience in wet and dry extrusion technologies, often used to create the meat-like textures that are crucial to so many alternative products, including meatless snacks. The centre will welcome food companies, researchers and start-ups looking to develop new plant-based products.

The strengths of plant-based meat-like snacks are numerous, as they fall at the crossroads of several big trends, such as consumer desire for added protein, healthier snacking, exotic flavours and ingredients, and interest in reducing meat consumption.

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