Nutritional Outlook

Nutritional Outlook, December 2016

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last bite ■ NUTRITIONAL OUTLOOK 58 December 2016 ifong/shutterstock.com; Daniel schweinert/shutterstock.com Part-Time Lovers Full-fedged vegetarians may be the most loyal consumers of meat-replacement products, but part-time vegetarians, or fexitarians, offer huge opportunities for market growth. By Michael crane, associate editor M any of us have at least one vegetarian friend or family member, but what about the fexitarians, or part-time vegetar- ians, in our lives? While this class of consum- ers may not always be as easy to identify, it is quickly becoming a top-priority group for frms specializing in meat-replacer ingredients. According to recent data shared by Innova Market Insights, 38% of Americans report eating meatless meals once a week or more, which amounts to more than 120 million U.S. consumers who can be considered fexitar- ians. Tat's a huge market for plant-based foods, and it may even present a more prom- ising segment for meat-alternative growth than the fully committed vegetarians. "While the number of people committing to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle increases every day, it's still a small percentage of the population overall," says Tara Rhein, market- ing manager for plant-based foods manu- facturer Atlantic Natural Foods. "Te bigger opportunity is the fexitarian group." Te challenge with reaching fexitarians, though, is that expectations for meat-like non-meat products can be especially high. Replicating the texture and overall appear- ance of meat are among the toughest ob- stacles in many meat-replacer applications, Rhein explains, but they aren't the only con- siderations. Some consumers may prioritize high protein content in their plant-based meat products, while others most want that convincing meat-like taste. "Many vegetarian consumers, and in particular fexitarians, want the 'total pack- age'—products that look like, eat like, and taste like meat," says Arno Sandoval, princi- pal applications scientist for meat at DuPont Nutrition & Health (St. Louis). Meeting those expectations is absolutely a challenge, but meat-substitute formulators have a few tricks up their sleeves. All About Imitating Meat, or Offering Something New? As far as the most popular applications for meat replacers, the majority of the market remains centered around traditional meat forms, including patties, nuggets, and sau- sages, Sandoval says. He adds that meals where plant-based meat pieces are used in combination with other food types, such as rice or pasta, are especially "ideal targets" for meat substitutes. But aside from veggie burgers and other conventional American food types, there may also be advantages to incorporating meat re- placers in dishes consumers are less familiar with, especially when it comes to fexitarians. Plant-based foods brand Sweet Earth Natu- ral Foods, for instance, ofers several lines of "culturally diverse" packaged meals, including its Chipotle Seitan, Moroccan Tagine, Span- ish Paella, and Peruvian Burrito. Rather than just positioning its products as imitations of popular meat products, Sweet Earth focuses on ofering exotic dishes that consumers will fnd "interesting," says Kelly Swette, owner and CEO of Sweet Earth. And in many cases, these kinds of recipes also happen to be easy applications for meat substitutes. "Te globally inspired recipes we feature represent cultures that traditionally use very little meat, which is perfect for us," Swette explains. Clean-Label Challenges Unfortunately, despite how "clean" plant- based ingredients might seem compared to many animal-based ingredients, it can be challenging to create clean-label products with meat replacers. Meat products usually require just a few meat particulates, fbers, and proteins to create texture and bind the food together, DuPont's Sandoval says. Veg- etarian foods, on the other hand, often need additional particulates, binders, gums, or favors that may work against a product's clean-label image. Tat may be starting to change, though. While various soy ingredients were long the bedrock of the meat-replacer industry, meat- substitute formulators are learning how to use the wider variety of the plant-based ingre- dients that are now readily available to them, including lentils, beans, legumes, quinoa, jackfruit, nuts, seitan, and more. "Tere are many non-meat alternatives out there, and they're all great substitutes for meat," says Atlantic Natural Foods' Rhein. "It's quite shocking how far we have come!"

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