‘Chance to chew’: Mouthfeel and convenience major drivers for plant-based food industry

By Si Ying Thian

- Last updated on GMT

Off-Piste focuses on the jerky texture in its snacks range, adding chewing to the experience that helps with satiation © Off-Piste Provisions
Off-Piste focuses on the jerky texture in its snacks range, adding chewing to the experience that helps with satiation © Off-Piste Provisions

Related tags plant based Protein Snacks plant-based Convenience foods vegan plant-based meat

NZ-based Off-Piste Provisions has outlined how consumer demands for healthy convenience food and a ‘chewing experience’ are key drivers guiding its product development strategy amidst plans for Australia and United States expansion.

Founded in November 2020, Off-Piste Provisions has produced some of New Zealand’s first plant-based jerkies and toppers, specialising in flavoured plant-based snacks, with other products including biltong and crackling.

Speaking to FoodNavigator-Asia​, its founder Jade Gray highlighted that the main draw of its products is the texture – having ‘a lot more lifelike meat fibre analogue compared to [global] competitors’ – ​and the firm has a pending intellectual property (IP) application for its manufacturing process.

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Toppers range © Off-Piste Provisions

He explained the firm’s initial focus on jerky in its plant-based range: “If you’re on a vegan or plant-based diet, there’s generally two textures you commonly eat. The first one is crunch, say salads. The second is mash, say lentils and chickpeas. We don’t have much of a chance to chew with plant-based diets.

“What this does is adding chewing to the experience and that helps with satiation. You feel fuller in the stomach when you chew a product. It also sends positive endorphins to your brain. So, that actually adds more than just taste and texture.”

Jerky is a product with traditionally tougher texture, so more chewing required to masticate it. The firm's plant-based jerky has been made to provide that same experience for non-meat eating consumers.

Processed doesn’t mean unhealthy

Gray said there is an increasing consumer preference towards snacking over sit-down meals, especially among Gen-Z and millennial consumers. The firm is also keeping in view other trends including demand for clean label products, products with natural ingredients, and sustainable supply chains.

Responding to a common criticism around plant-based foods being ultra-processed​ to improve shelf life and taste, Gray said that a deeper discussion about health and processed is needed to ‘not fall into the cliches.’

 “Having worked in the food industry for many years, I need to clarify that processing does not necessarily produce negative health consequences. The problem with processed food is adding sugar and fat at high levels, and then disguised in the product,”​ he said.

“What’s important is the ingredients that go into the products. When you look at baby formula and nutraceuticals, they’re all processed products, but it does not mean they are unhealthy.

“And if you look at meat: While you can say it's natural, I know that many meats are also fed antibiotics, supplements and injected with hormones. What is then natural and not processed? It does not mean it's healthy.”

He added that all of Off-Piste’s ingredients can be sourced from a health store. Some of the common ingredients used in its key products – toppers and jerkies – include organic pea protein, water, faba protein, olive oil, glucose, seasonings, maize starch, yeast extract, organic coconut sugar, salt, spices, and liquid smoke.

All of the firm’s products are ambient and shelf-stable for at least 18 months, enabled by a curing process similar to that of meat.

Prioritising expansion in AU and US

The brand is currently available in NZ, Australia, and the US.

Through market research on the global validation of our products, we identified at the outset that Australia and US should be our first key export markets,”​ he said.

“I think a lot of the [product] formats in Asia are still getting developed. It’s still early stages for Asia, where in the US and West they’ve probably an extra three to four years in the food technology space.

“While I’m familiar with Asia given my past working experience and that Asia has a long history in plant-based meat eating, US and the West is still ahead of Asia in terms of opportunity. But Asia will eventually catch up, I’m sure.”

It launched in Australia last December. Within ANZ, it is in about 400 locations spanning supermarkets, petrol stations and convenience stores, and pending entry in 300 more locations in the next few months.

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Founder Jade Gray showcasing the products at a US trade show © Off-Piste Provisions

Last month, it expanded to the US via Amazon. Talks are currently under the way to display its products on the shelves of specialty supermarkets. Gray also revealed that it is closing on a US$10mn Series A funding in the next few months, and is planning to channel the funds towards building a production facility to support its export growth.

Gray explained that product shelf-stability in its product development was key in enabling its global expansion ambitions: “I’ve learnt through my time in the meat sector that cold chain is very costly and complicated. It adds a lot of work to expansion, and not very friendly with e-commerce.

“We want to be e-commerce focused, and be able to grow globally very fast. The ambient, shelf-stable section in the grocery store allows us to do that.”

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