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Plant-based food and beverage products have recently been getting more attention due to increasing concerns with the health and environmental impact of other types of products. As the trend grows for functional food, brands need to communicate their commitment to sustainability and focus on initiatives such as carbon reduction strategies, local and short supply chains and eco-friendly packaging.
Aside from promoting health benefits, manufacturers can also capitalize on the inherent flavors of their base ingredients like almond and coconut to raise consumers' flavor expectations. Manufacturers can use additional flavoring ingredients to create unique profiles that pique consumer interest.
With market research firm Meticulous Research projecting that the global plant-based food market will reach nearly USD 75 billion by 2027, product launches for dairy-alternative beverages have increased three-fold in Asia. Recent innovations in the region have been focused on plant-based dairy products like milk, yogurt and ice cream.
Beverage makers can alleviate consumer concerns about the nutritional composition of plant-based dairy by formulating to match or exceed that of dairy equivalents. While health and sustainability are the key drivers for the trend towards plant-based dairy alternatives, taste and texture remain important factors behind the purchasing decision of consumers.
There also seems to be a perception that these products are the healthier options. According to a recent Mintel survey, a high prevalence of “no added sugar” and “low/reduced sugar” claims in plant-based dairy alternatives have grown by more than 23 percent over the last five years in Asia.
Plant-based food and drinks appeal to the new generation of consumers who embrace a flexitarian diet – they seek healthier, more natural ingredients and prefer sustainable products. This has led to a more diverse range of protein sources and flavors. For example, using mung beans, edamame and popular flavors like cheese can drive consumer interest in plant-based dairy alternatives.
The surge in popularity of oat milk is not just gaining interest from lactose-intolerant consumers but also among those with allergies to nuts and soy. Aside from being one of the safest options from an allergen perspective, oat milk imparts a neutral taste which makes it suitable to be added to other beverages like tea and coffee.
Cow’s milk is generally composed of around three percent fat and nearly four percent protein with lactose as the sugar component at around five percent. In comparison, oat milk has around half the fat and lower protein. Oat milk tends to have a slightly thick texture and creamy mouthfeel which makes it more milk-like in comparison to other dairy alternatives.
Due to the lower fat content, fat in the form of rapeseed oil is often added to oat milk. On the other hand, oat milk has a high starch content of around 50 to 60 percent. When heated, oat starch undergoes gelatinization to form a viscous mass. In comparison to other cereals, oat starch gelatinizes at a lower temperature.
Starch-degrading enzymes such as alpha amylase can be added to hydrolyze starch and produce dextrins. This reduces viscosity and thereby gives an appealing mouthfeel. Further to this, enzymes such as beta-amylase or glucoamylase can be added for the dextrins to be broken down into maltose or glucose which will naturally sweeten the oat milk without the need to add sugar.
Alpha-cyclodextrin, a plant-based ingredient from natural renewable raw materials (starch), supports aeration while providing superior texture and stability to barista foam. The cyclic oligosaccharide, which consists of six glucose molecules with a hydrophobic cavity and hydrophilic exterior, offers a wide range of functionalities to the food industry.
Alpha-cyclodextrin shows compelling advantages in different model systems: barista milk, powder-based toppings and plant milk. When the foam is created via steam injection or frothing, the alpha-cyclodextrin can significantly increase the foaming capacity. By preventing drainage and coalescence, it stabilizes the foam pore structure, giving a fine and creamy foam appearance that is also reflected in the mouthfeel. It can also increase foam stability and thereby enable longer serving times.
There are various options for sugar reduction: by utilizing high-intensity sweeteners, which are available both in artificial and natural form though the trend is towards natural in combination with polyols; soluble fibers; and other bulk sweeteners.
Malt extract is a wholesome, natural alternative to sugar that can be easily incorporated into beverage formulations. Although it contains naturally occurring sugars, due to its mix of slower-release sugars it has a low GI ranking.
Malt has much more to offer than other sweeteners as it is a source of B complex vitamins, amino acids and has flavor-enhancing properties. Malt’s slight sweetness complements most plant-based beverages well. For example, malt is used in soy milk formulations for a more balanced taste and to reduce its beany note.
Stevia, derived from the Stevia rebaudiana plant, is also a fast-rising sweetener. Adopting the use of stevia in plant-based products complements the natural and sustainable image of plant-based dairy alternatives.
As plant-based beverages continue to increase in popularity as healthy alternatives for dairy, it is not surprising that the market is estimated to exceed USD 22 billion by 2026. Each day, more and more consumers are switching to plant-based alternatives in search of products with low fat and cholesterol content, as well as zero concentration of lactose. As plant-based food and beverage products increase in popularity, it’s no wonder food companies are focused on this attractive growing market.
Reach out to us at DKSH to find out how your business can tap into this rising demand for plant-based beverages in your target markets.
Anne Tan is Senior Manager of Business Development for Food and Beverage Ingredients Asia Pacific based in Kuala Lumpur