Plant-based foods and beverages are continuously rising in appeal in the Asian region. And according to data from Kerry’s recent protein-focused report The Protein Mindset, many plant protein sources hold strong market potential due to positive associations with health and nutrition.
“Emerging plant-based food and beverage products have grown significantly in consumer appeal in Asia, where 75% of consumers regard plant protein as a more sustainable source and associate it with better quality and being more nutritious,” Strategic Marketing Director, Applied Health and Nutrition, Kerry Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa Jackie Ng said.
“The appeal of plant-based proteins is particularly high [in] Asia, where some 75% of consumers named plant proteins as their preferred protein source, which is even higher than in Europe (56%), North America (48%) or the global average (61%).
“More consumers here also stated that plant-based protein is preferred than for dairy proteins (60% of consumers) and animal proteins (54%).”
Plant-based proteins are accepted as a more sustainable protein source than either dairy or animal proteins, but in Asia it is also known that consumers are less driven by sustainability or ethical concerns than taste or nutritional quality.
Indeed, according to the report in Asia the top protein purchase driver is the protein quality (64%) followed by taste (60%) and amount of protein per serving (55%), as opposed to other criteria such as sustainability of the ingredient or even the source/type of protein used.
This means that companies looking to market plant-based products in this region need to place more emphasis on the main driving criteria of taste and nutrition – areas which can also be the most challenging for this market.
“Plant proteins have strong market potential but taste, texture and nutritional optimisation are challenges [that many firms still] need to overcome,” stated the report authors.
“[Here, we believe that] hybrid formulations with both plant and other proteins are appealing to consumers and represent a winning strategy for manufacturers to overcome these challenges. Our consumer research has confirmed that this Hybrid Opportunity of combining plant and animal proteins are highly appealing to consumers.
“Focusing on hybrid formulations is an opportunity for manufacturers to introduce their plant-based solutions to more mainstream consumers, [by] overcoming the taste and texture challenges in formulations while also introducing consumers to the significant sustainability and nutritional benefits of plant proteins.”
The appeal was especially high in the APAC region where 87% of surveyed consumers stated that hybrid plant-animal protein products were appealing to them, beating out Latin America (86%), Europe (71%) and North America (69%).
“This finding was not a surprise, as the majority of consumers driving the plant-based market are flexitarians, consumers who still consume animal protein but seek to integrate more plant proteins into their diets,” said the authors.
As it is, various Asian firms are already emerging in the hybrid product space such as China’s HEROTEIN and Malaysia’s NANKA, which both look to employ hybrid products as a strategy to not-too-abruptly introduce local consumers to the plant-based product concept, as well as use the animal component to overcome challenges faced in making purely plant-based products.
Importance of protein fortification
The report was based on responses from over 6,300 consumers in 12 countries worldwide, and in all the regions involved it was found that consumers are most drawn to protein fortification in the format of high-frequency breakfast foods such as yoghurt (61%), cereals (58%) and granola or cereal bars (66%), as well as indulgent foods such as ice creams (52%) and cookies (48%).
“In Asia, the most popular categories for protein fortification were granola/cereal bars (61%), yoghurt (56%), cereals (56%), ice cream and frozen yoghurt (51%) and granola (52%),” said the authors.
“This was also the only region where plant-based or non-dairy milk (37%) emerged as one of the top five beverage applications for protein fortification, behind energy drinks (38%), nutritional beverages (43%), day milk (51%) and drinkable yoghurt (54%).
“[So] plant proteins are no longer a niche and are reaching mainstream traction [and] the taste and texture of plant-protein products are essential to drive further growth in the category [so manufacturers are encouraged to explore] plant protein sources such as oat, pea, rice, sunflower and hybrid formations [for innovation in] product development.”
In addition, the firm also urged plant-based companies to ensure that other current consumer trends such as clean label and better-for-you are also met when developing new products, to ensure additional value to consumers in a market where product development efforts are moving faster than ever before.