Customization may offer meat-alternative makers new

CHICAGO — Customization may bring some excitement to the plant-based meat alternatives category. Speakers in a July 13 session at IFT FIRST, the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting and exposition held in Chicago, recommended manufacturers provide recipes for consumers to try with plant-based meat items.

Growth in the category has slowed at retail. Household penetration of meat alternatives in the United States increased 0.1% in the 52-week period ended March 20, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm.

“When you go to a grocery store, you might see three brands all selling the exact same thing, a ground meat alternative or a ground meat patty,” said Joan Holleran Driggs, vice president of content and thought leadership for IRI. “That’s where it’s boring. The excitement comes from something new, something different.”

The product could come with recipes showing how to take shortcuts in the kitchen when preparing items or recipes designed to help lower cholesterol, she said.

Consumers at the beginning of the plant-based trend may have eaten a plant-based burger at a restaurant once every two or three weeks, said Arlin Wasserman, founder and managing director of Changing Tastes, a food strategy consultancy based in Philadelphia. Then they bought the products at retail and ate them two or three times in one week.

“The shine wore off,” he said.

He said plant-based meat replacements may become boring because their flavor is locked in at the manufacturing facility.

“So, you can’t adapt them at home the way you would chicken or beef,” Mr. Wasserman said. “So, you get tired of them.”

Changing Tastes was involved in a survey that found 40% of adults said they either would never eat another plant-based meat replacement or said they were eating the replacements less than they did last year, Mr. Wasserman said. He added companies may need to relaunch brands with cooking suggestions, “which means designing the product to be cooked in multiple ways and not taste exactly the same every time.”

Liz Sloan, PhD, chief executive officer and president of Sloan Trends, Inc., a consultancy based in Escondido, Calif., said she has noticed a trend in Europe where consumers in general are asking for recipes, including meals that help with specific health conditions.

“So, help me make a dinner, help me reduce my husband’s cholesterol,” she said.

Foodservice and sustainability were two other topics covered in the session.

Two trends popular during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic are starting to wane, Mr. Wasserman said. Restaurants are finding that ghost kitchens are no longer financially viable, and some restaurants are ending their takeout business, he said.

“That was a coping mechanism (during the pandemic),” he said.

Restaurants and grocery chains are competing to deliver ready-to-eat foods to consumers’ homes, he added.

Large food companies are putting information about their sustainability efforts on their websites, Ms. Driggs said.

“That’s not where shoppers are going,” she said. “Shoppers are going to their retailer to where they are going to make the buy. A lot of them are in store looking at the packages. They are going to be looking for certifications. So, use the package and use your retailer platform to get your message out.”