PepsiCo R&D Global External Innovation Lead of Academic Partnership Dr Tan Siow Ying emphasised that taste was the main factor that would keep consumers coming back at our second Healthy Ageing APAC Summit in Singapore.
“Consumers are only going to buy a product, [plant-based or otherwise], because of taste. Once they’ve tasted it, they will only repeat their consumption if it tastes good,” she said.
“If the product does not taste good, it will have lost its acceptance and popularity factor even if it carries added functionality.”
She added that this was one of the major challenges that PepsiCo saw when it comes to innovation and development in the plant-based sector.
“Taste is subjective and can evolve over time, so it is a challenge to figure that out and look at what is the possible minimum entry level vs what is ideal [for new products].”
Citing an internal PepsiCo study conducted last year, Dr Tan said that the results fully corroborated the importance of taste.
“When we asked consumers ‘why not consume more plant’ and ‘why still consume animal’[products], the top answers for both were because of the taste factor,” she said.
“Their expectations have evolved over the years, but although many still think plant-based products are healthier, safer and fresher, they clearly do not think these are better-tasting.”
Additionally, consumers were found to not consume as much plant-based products due to the relatively higher costs and lower availability.
Conversely, more animal-based products tended to be consumed due to a higher demand for protein (and the assumption that plant-based products would not carry the necessary amounts), as well as the view that it contained more key ingredients such as iron, proteins and B-vitamins.
That said, Dr Tan added that the world was currently still trending towards plant-based nutrition, driven by factors like daily living (energy, safety), health (illness prevention, longevity) and social (sustainability, ethics).
“This trend is across the globe, both developing and developed countries. A majority said they are increasing plant and/or decreasing animal, and half [the surveyed participants] are doing both,” she said.
“[Importantly], many of these consumers do not see this as a fleeting trend, but more as a life change that will help in maintaining good health from now until old age.
“Most of these consumers who consume plant-based products do not see themselves as vegetarians. In fact, in most countries less than 10% call themselves as such, most just see this as part of their lifestyle or dietary choice.”
“As such, we can see that labelling a product as vegetarian vs plant-based may or may not gain appeal.”
In terms of category, the PepsiCo research also revealed that the demand for plant-based foods and snacks was still higher than that for drinks or supplements.
“It could be due to taste, but also possibly just due to availability,’ added Dr Tan.
PepsiCo initiatives in the plant-based space
PepsiCo has been focusing a good deal on new product development in the plant-based space, and especially based on both convenience, negative nutrition reduction and positive nutrition increase.
“Consumers’ needs throughout the day will change, as will the challenges and stresses that they face, so not having access to healthy meals on-the-go will be an added challenge for them – PepsiCo wants to connect with consumers throughout the day [to address this],” she said.
“[This is especially important looking at] global demographic changes, with an increasing number of women entering the workforce and still needing to provide a balance between convenience and health [for their families].”
For negative nutrition reduction, much of the focus has been on reducing levels of sugar, sodium and trans fats as well converting artificial ingredients (such as colours and preservatives) to clean label ones.
“Positive nutrition increases on the other hand have mostly been focused on fibre, protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and ensuring the product still remains appealing,” she added.
In addition, the company’s portfolio transformations have also been taking place through various mergers and acquisitions, such as its recent acquisitions of SodaStream and CytoSport in the past 12 months.
“PepsiCo has invested in these brands to help us deliver against consumer needs, while still delivering the required taste,” she said.