3 ways to reduce risk in an alternative meat product launch

The plant-based meat market is at a crossroads. We’re beyond the buzz and things are getting real; but the good news is, the demand for healthier plant-based products isn’t going anywhere, it’s just shape-shifting. Brands must find ways to optimize formulations, marketing and general business operations if they hope to compete in a crowded landscape and meet more specific consumer needs and wants. For those who succeed, the rewards will be huge. So how can brands launching (or relaunching) plant-based meat products mitigate the risk of this fast-evolving segment? Read on for tips. 

Tip 1: Go deeper with your research

When today’s plant-based meat analogs first launched, consumers were excited to try them; even for omnivores, the benefits (health, environmental) seemed worth trading their traditional chicken and burgers. But now as sales decelerate, it’s become clear that consumers may not be willing to settle. Even if focus groups for a new product are a given, it’s worth your while to dig deeper on taste, texture and flavor. Consumers might give your product a decent rating, but how will it compare against the real thing? And how does that compare to other similar products on the market? Competition is cutthroat, so it’s vital to have an edge. In addition to taste tests, brands should be thinking about consumer perceptions around ingredients, manufacturing processes, etc. Will consumers see your product as healthy? Why or why not? And finally, how can you move from a consumers’ first try to long-term loyalty?

Tip 2: Choose your ingredients wisely

Speaking of health, how’s your label looking? In the beginning, consumers were willing to take plant-based meat health claims at face value; after all, selling the idea that plants are healthy doesn’t take much persuasion. But as consumers began to peek under the hood, there were questions about the health and safety of new ingredients and processing methods. So now, brands have to do the extra work upfront to prove to the consumer that their ingredients are healthy and safe. The good news: Advances in ingredient technology (decades in the making) can help improve the nutritional value of plant-based meats by cutting saturated fat and calories, and even reducing the need for salt, sugar and other questionable additives and flavors. Choose ingredient partners that have already done the R&D legwork (safety and taste tests, etc.) for you.

While assessing the health and safety of their ingredients, brands should also take a hard look at sustainability. A major driver for plant-based meat growth is the eco-friendly aspect, but some critics are calling that into question. Palm and coconut oil—common ingredients in plant-based meats—for example, are associated with widespread deforestation and human rights issues. Brands can avoid these potential pitfalls by being transparent about their production and ingredient sourcing practices. Choose fat alternatives that have a reputation for being more eco-friendly.

Tip 3: Focus on the fat

As mentioned, consumers are becoming less willing to compromise on the taste and texture of plant-based meats. And if brands hope to snag a larger piece of market share, they’ll have to appeal to omnivores who ultimately prefer the real thing. The best place to start: Focus on the fat. Put simply, animal fat tastes, feels, smells and even looks better than its plant-derived counterparts (and that's not opinion—it's evolutionary science). So for years, formulators have struggled to find ingredients to recreate the taste, lubricity, mouthfeel and juiciness of the fats present in animal proteins. Formulators should look for a fat system (a proprietary combination of two or more fats engineered as a single ingredient) with a composition that can mimic animal fat: similar density, melting point and taste and texture implications. That alone can help brands greatly enhance their plant-based products with just a single formulation lever.

A win within reach

To recap, getting an edge in the plant-based meat market is within reach, for those who do thorough upfront research; choose ingredients wisely; and find way to recreate the taste and mouthfeel of animal fat in a way that doesn’t sacrifice nutritional value.

Some of the most buzzed-about new brands have a secret weapon in their arsenal to help them win in these areas. Alternative fat technology EPG is over 30 years in the making—and a proven way to improve the taste, texture and nutritional profile of plant-based meat products without any tradeoffs. EPG scientists have already done the legwork and due diligence, investing decades in research, safety and regulatory action.

The secret is in the science: We start with naturally sourced rapeseed oil and split the oil apart into its components: glycerin and fatty acids. Next we insert a food-grade propoxyl connector and re-link the fatty acid and glycerin, to make a material that looks, feels, tastes and cooks like fat. The propoxyl link in the middle resists digestive enzyme action, inhibiting caloric release through the key part of digestion, while allowing later breakdown in the environment—safely, like any other fat.

Talk to an Epogee plant-based meat expert today about ways to bring your brand to the next level.