What’s Feeding the Interest in Plant Proteins?

Consumer concern about the environmental impact of animal sourcing and processing combined with an interest in the link between alternative proteins and health are feeding a growing interest in plant proteins. As plant proteins gain market traction and as innovation drives supply chain efficiencies and improves sensory and functional characteristics, we help fast-moving consumer goods companies evaluate strategies and seize opportunities in space.

Taking a broad view, we assess technical aspects, including impacts to labeling, consumer perception, regulatory status, supply chain, and product development. We ensure our clients align their efforts and allocate their resources to areas, technologies, and partners that support near and long-term opportunities in the plant protein market.

Identifying Alternative Proteins for Optimal Health

Piggybacking off consumer’s demand for products that deliver improved health, there are concerns related to increased consumption of plant-based foods and potentially inadequate protein intake. At the same time, there’s a lack of scientific studies supporting plant proteins’ nutritional aspects. Outside of soy, rice, pea, and wheat, we perceive a need to evaluate and compare the quality, digestibility, and health benefits of plant proteins to animal proteins.

We advise ingredient suppliers and brand manufacturers on how to select and include plant proteins in their portfolios. Using our interactive evaluation matrices, clients can assess plant proteins’ critical success factors that may unlock growth: amino acid profiles, digestibility, generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status, functional and sensory performance, and leading technology and processing innovations. We further explore product innovation opportunities by combining plant proteins based on both functionality and amino acid content to deliver specific products.’ s (e.g., sports nutrition, infants, women’s health, baby boomers, etc.).

Achieving Structure-Function Processing Innovation

Unlike first-generation plant protein products that used a single protein source (soy or pea) and lacked flavor and texture, today’s plant protein products come in a range of tasty and satisfying options. These second-generation products use plant protein blends to overcome earlier hurdles.

Yet, however good the current products are, consumers want even more; they’re asking for bold flavors and unique textures that mimic traditional animal-based products. For example, in products where sensory aspects — smell, taste, or look — play a prominent role (meats, deli, yogurt, etc.), plant proteins continue to fall behind traditional protein sources.

While companies work to address plant proteins’ shortcomings — bitterness, grittiness, off-flavors — with seasonings or by collaborating with flavor houses on developing complementary ingredients, there remains a need for protein blends to match the functional aspects of the animal-derived protein they are replacing. We work with product developers to achieve the ideal functionality and textural characteristics and identify ingredients that deliver on taste and texture.

Are you interested in understanding the growing plant protein space? Or in incorporating plant-based nutrition in your portfolio? Let’s talk.

RTI Innovation Advisors helps clients turn insights into new products, services & technologies that have meaningful human and business impact. Feed of RTI Int’l