Milking it

Plant-based dairy alternatives have been around for decades, but gone are the days where they were considered a niche market.

The surge in interest and sales lead me to talk to Sophie Davodeau, innovation director for sweet goods and dairy EAME at Givaudan.

During our conversation, she points out the motivations behind consumers choosing plant-based products over dairy, and Givaudan’s understanding of consumer preferences in terms of the plant-based sources consumers choose and why.

Givaudan conducted research in six countries across Europe, Africa and the Middle East with 2,000 consumers. It followed up the research by speaking with 5,000 people about Covid in general, how it influences their perception of food products but also specifically about plant-based dairy.

Some highlights from our conversation are:

  • Plant based dairy is booming across Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and has been accelerated by Covid (healthier eating concerns/immunity diet concept);
  • Between 2019 & 2026, the dairy alternatives market is projected to grow globally at a compound annual growth rate of 12.4%;
  • 40% of the new launches for dairy and non-dairy yogurts, drinks and ice creams in Europe, Africa and the Middle East are plant-based (Mintel);
  • Since the Covid-19 pandemic, 18% of EAME consumers have increased their consumption of plant-based products (Givaudan EAME);
  • Givaudan has identified five different types of dairy alternative consumer: Healthy hardcores; Eco warriors; Flavour cravers; Trendy triallists; Value hunters

While the motivations for purchase have not changed in the time that Givuadan has measured consumer preferences (2016-2020), healthy eating has become a key focus in recent months because of the pandemic.

“Consumers are looking for healthy options,” says Davodeau, “and are associating food and beverages with healthy diets. That was before Covid, has been accelerated by it and will remain after.

“For plant-based dairy, it means having food and beverages that provide a healthy alternative is important and will remain important.”

Trends are seemingly driven by the increasing popularity of vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian diets. Typically, consumers are adopting a more flexible approach to their choices, driven by their ability to affect their environmental impact and support sustainability, having a healthy, balanced diet, and possibly manage everything from weight to allergies/intolerances.

The fact that most consumers mix and match their dairy or plant-based products, Davodeau tells me means that plant-based dairy’s reach is wide-ranging and has the potential to target more people than originally assumed.

As part of the company’s research, Davodeau highlights that of the current product offer, 30% of consumers say they are happy with what’s available although 60% say they find foods “somehow satisfying”.

“There is a lot of space for improvements and additional products that can taste even better,” Davodeau says. Think new flavours, maskers and mouthfeel components as well as hybrids.

Success really boils down to listening to consumers however consumer education also plays a role in efforts to branch out into the dairy-alternative space.

With more people gravitating toward plant-based diets than ever before, there is an opportunity to educate consumers about the benefits of plant-based dairy as well as the nutritional value of products.

Although taste will be one of the single biggest issues in further success of plant-based products, Davodeau stresses that Givaudan is concentrating on building the food concepts and tastes that will tickle the taste buds.

It is clear that the increasing trend towards plant-based dairy alternatives is sticking around, we should be milking it for all it is worth.

Food & Drink Technology will be watching closely and will provide updates on developments in print and online.

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