Plant-based Innovation in Europe: Navigating Consumer Preferences and the Imperative for Food Manufacturer Innovation

Jen Lyons, Marketing Manager, Sensient Flavors & Extracts

As published in an issue of Innovations in Food Technology

Plant-based innovation in Europe is not merely a trend; it’s a seismic shift in consumer preferences, driven by a desire for sustainability, health-conscious choices and ethical considerations. As European consumers increasingly gravitate towards plant-based alternatives, food manufacturers find themselves at a critical juncture where innovation is not just desirable but imperative to meet evolving demands.

Sustainability Integration

Food manufacturers must prioritise sustainability in their practices. Sourcing raw materials responsibly, reducing carbon footprints, and adopting eco-friendly packaging are essential steps. Aligning production processes with environmental values will resonate with consumers seeking not only plant-based options but also products with a minimal impact on the planet.

Nutritional Excellence

In response to the health-conscious consumer, food manufacturers must innovate to enhance the nutritional profiles of plant-based products. Fortification with essential vitamins and minerals, ensuring adequate protein content, and addressing dietary restrictions, such as gluten-free or allergen-free options, will contribute to the appeal of these products. Reaching this desired nutritional excellence can often cause off-notes consumers tend to desire less, developing with a flavour masker like Sensient’s Smoothenol® paired with natural flavours or flavour enhancers can help mask these off-notes and provide the desired taste consumers expect.

Culinary Innovation for Taste and Texture

The challenge for food manufacturers is to create plant-based alternatives that not only mimic the flavours and textures of traditional animal products but also offer a unique and satisfying culinary experience. Investment in research and development to refine textures and optimise taste will be critical in winning over discerning consumers. Which is where Sensient has focused a lot of their innovation, with taste technologies like TrueBoost™ Mouthfeel to enhance the creamy mouthfeel in plant-based dairy products.

Diversification of product range

To cater to the diverse preferences of consumers, food manufacturers must diversify their plant-based product range. This includes expanding beyond meat and dairy alternatives to offer innovative plant-based options in snacks, ready-to-eat meals, and beverages. A varied product portfolio ensures a broader appeal and market penetration.

Convenience in fast-paced lifestyles

Recognising the demand for convenience, food manufacturers need to focus on developing plant-based products that align with fast-paced lifestyles. Ready-to-eat options, easily preparable meals, and on-the-go snacks will resonate with consumers looking for quick and healthy plant-based choices.

Ethical sourcing and transparency

Emphasising ethical sourcing practices and maintaining transparency in the supply chain is paramount given that it is driven by increased consumer awareness and in some cases, even legislation. In the latter, the EU’s landmark legislation in the form of the proposed Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive is intended to anchor human rights and environmental considerations along the value chain of companies’ operations and governance structures. While the future of this legislation is in doubt today, it is undeniable that food manufacturers are coming under increasing pressure to ensure cruelty-free practices, humane treatment of workers, and environmentally sustainable processes along their entire value chains, and communicate this transparently. Just as Eco labelling and nutritional labelling have grown in popularity without regulatory pressure, transparent labelling that embodies human, animal rights and ethical practices throughout the value chain is on the horizon, supporting consumers in making ethical and environmental decisions about the food they eat.

Adaptation to innovative ingredients

As consumers express openness to new and innovative plant-based ingredients, food manufacturers should invest in researching and incorporating these alternatives. This might involve exploring unconventional protein sources or utilising unique flavour enhancers to diversify product offerings and stand out in a competitive market. In conclusion, the success of food manufacturers in Europe hinges on their ability to innovate and adapt to the evolving landscape of plant-based preferences. Those that invest in sustainability, nutritional excellence, culinary innovation, and ethical practices will not only meet current consumer demands but also shape the future of the plant-based movement in the region. The imperative for innovation is clear, and those who embrace it will thrive in this dynamic and ever expanding market.

Which is why partnering with an innovative flavour supplier like Sensient who has a variety of solutions that align with sustainable practices as well as a well-versed team who specialise in everything from fermentation, flavour and taste technologies and natural colours and product development is imperative.