Makers of plant-based burgers, having gained a rapidly-growing market for their products, will alter them to counter a fightback from the beef industry over higher content of the likes of fat and sodium, a food expert said.
Kelley Fitzpatrick, head of Canada-based food consultancy group NutriScience Solutions, said that while makers of plant-based patties made claims of environmental benefits, such as less water use and carbon dioxide release, than the traditional meat sector, they remained vulnerable on health issues.
“Some of the issues that the [plant-based burger] industry is going to have to deal with is a perception of a highly processed product,” Ms Fitzpatrick told the Global Grain Geneva conference.
“The next iteration of this [market development] process will be a little more ‘health food’.”
‘More fat, much higher in sodium…’
While the alternative burger market had seen rapid growth, of 190% in the year to mid-June, making it the “fastest growing category” in plant-based foods, it was open to claims of a long list of ingredients, and of higher levels than traditional meat burgers of less desirable content, such as sodium.
“The beef people have put out a lot of information on the health aspects [of plant-based burgers], or lack thereof,” she said.
Such information had surrounded ideas of “more fat, much higher in sodium, contains carbohydrates”.
Furthermore, some plant-based foods, including Impossible Foods’ highest-profile burger, contained genetically modified ingredients.
Nonetheless, Ms Fitzpatrick flagged a bright future for makers of plant-based protein alternatives, saying that “this is a sector that is growing, will continue to grow and is here to stay.
The overall market was expected to double by 2025, to $16.3bn, from $8bn this year.
And there could be an acceleration further ahead as younger people, more attuned to environmental factors, become more active food shoppers.
“Watch out” in about 5-8 years’ time when so-called millennial and generation Z consumers become more active and “will really be looking for more of these products,” she said.
“It’s going to become an avalanche.”
‘Very highly dominated by soy’
For farmers, the market growth was creating in particular demand for soybeans, with soy proteins and their derivatives the most-used ingredients, comprising 77%.
“The market is very highly dominated by soy,” which will “continue to be the dominant player in this market.”
However, while wheat proteins took a 22%, Ms Fitzpatrick also pointed to peas, on about 0.8%, as a growing in popularity as a raw material.
Another challenge for the industry, however, was to find a use for the non-protein element of peas - of which she said “right now, a lot of if is dumped”.
“It cannot continue that way,” she said, adding that “70% of pea is not protein.”