Not that many years ago, plant-based products were considered a fringe category, appealing mostly to vegetarians, a few vegans and curious mainstream consumers interested in their healthfulness, or simply, their novelty. This was before ‘flexitarians’ were added as a consumer behavior.
Now ‘flexitarian’ needs no explanation and plant-based food, and beverages are multiplying like dandelions in the spring. For those who like numbers – a recent Nutritional Outlook article* reported SPINS sales data showed plant protein in food and beverages grew by 14% last year.
With this mainstreaming of plant-based products, there comes several expectations:
- Good taste
- Recognizable ingredients
- Cleaner labels
- Sound nutrition (e.g., not high in sugar or sodium)
Whereas vegetarian and vegan consumers are generally more willing to compromise in some of these areas, mainstream consumers are not. First and foremost, whatever the plant-based product – beverage, burger, or snack – it must taste good.
So, what’s on the horizon in plant-based products? While there’s lots going on, I’m going to touch on three areas Mintel experts say have potential and where fruit could play a role.
1. Plant-based meal replacement smoothies (retail not foodservice)
Two trends are coupled here – the continued interest in healthy eating, which has only been accentuated by the pandemic, and the popularity of plant-based products. The smoothie format appeals to health-conscious consumers who want a convenient meal replacement.
V8 Protein Blend Mixed Berry Flavor with Plant Protein Smoothie is described as a fruit and veg blend with 5g protein, one serving of fruit and one serving of vegetable per 250ml serving.
Sure, there are soy-based complete nutrition products already on the shelf, but the opportunity lies in harnessing the functional nutrition of fruit and veggies. Creating great tasting smoothies out of fruit and vegetables combined to deliver a nutritionally balanced meal replacement. The meal replacement market is growing. People want on-the-go meals that are satiating, and they can feel good about. Nutritionally sound fruit and veggie smoothies tick all the expectation boxes for mainstream consumers.
2. Kids’ plant-based beverages
Let me say first, I’m not suggesting replacing dairy milk with plant-based milks for children. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way. What I am suggesting is creating plant-based beverages for children without added sugar and artificial ingredients as an option or replacement for other liquid refreshments. The plant-based kids’ beverage market is small today – global launches represent less than 1% of the total, according to Mintel figures.
Amazing Grass Kidz Superfood Outrageous Chocolate Daily Nutritional Shake -This nutritional smoothie combines farm fresh organic greens with a rainbow of over 30 wholesome fruits and veggies, providing kids with the whole food nutrition their growing bodies need. This kosher certified supplement is a plant-based product and contains prebiotics and probiotics. It is free of gluten and dairy, and all flavors used are organic, GMO-free, all natural, kosher and vegan.
So, there is room to grow here. Consider the possibility of putting a few extra servings of fruit and vegetables in a plant-based milk or smoothie with kid appeal. Parents are interested in plant-based beverages for their children, yet they’re concerned about artificial ingredients, sugar levels and nutritional soundness. Again, herein lies the opportunity to deliver kid-friendly flavor with balanced nutrition that pleases both parent and child. I would be remiss here if I didn’t remind our audience that Tree Top’s fruit purees add nutritional value, without having to be labeled as added sugar.
Immunity, sleep, and energy are among the top health concerns American parents have for their children under 12 – again from Mintel research. Formulating functional beverages with immune-enhancing fruit and vegetables addresses this market desire using label-friendly, natural ingredients. Success in this niche begins with parents seeing the value. In the end, though, taste will make or break a product.
3. Plant-based frozen desserts
Another notable niche in the expanding plant-based product category is plant-based ice creams and other plant-based frozen treats. Mintel says, “plant-based ice cream is on track to be the next indulgent treat.” Mintel explains it as a balance-seeking response to the aftereffects of all the stress-eating that went on during the pandemic, describing it as “healthy indulgence,”
Plant-based ice creams are ascribed with the same healthy halo as other plant-based products. People think they have less sugar and are better for them. Our job is to deliver on that promise with products that meet the plant-based expectations outlined earlier, making good tasting alt-milk ice creams with cleaner labels, recognizable ingredients, and sound nutrition. Why not products with a serving of fruit in every scoop? So many yummy possibilities come to mind.
Bringing in the fruit
Here at Tree Top we have a long and fruit-filled history formulating smoothies, beverages, and ice creams with purees, variegates, concentrates and more – fruit in many forms. Let’s talk – about how to incorporate fruit in your next plant-based application.
*Nutritional Outlook, Feb. 14, 2022, Plant protein’s future: 2022 Ingredient trends for food, drinks, dietary supplements, and natural products.