BLOG "Industrial evolution of the meat alternative category"

Manouk Wolbert, Food Technologist at Ojah

 

 

While the global market in meat and fish alternatives seems to get more mature, and with the most extreme growth flattening, my Ojah colleagues and me were glad to see that our business has continued to grow again – a trend that aligns with reports showing a steadily growing demand for meat alternative basics like poultry pieces in markets where other categories are declining. This growth in itself is not what excites me most. What does, is the underlying sign that more and more consumers are integrating these products in their daily cooking repertoire for a more sustainable and healthier diet. Clearly, as we’re achieving price parity with meat in this subcategory, price is getting less of hurdle for consumers shifting to meat-free.

 

Personal experience
This conclusion is not merely based on numbers and trends, but on personal experience as well. As a flexitarian myself and with a partner and friends that are vegetarian, I know how time-consuming it can be to prepare complicated dishes or to make two different versions – one with meat and one without. Thankfully, as our products work for almost any type of dish, I was able to stick to my favourite recipes without having to make any concessions in (fibrous) texture, taste, and protein. I dare to say that our favourite dishes have even improved to new levels, turning my friends into the biggest fans of our products.

 

Crucial variables for meat-free success
For retailers and category managers willing to serve consumers like me even better, the challenge is to create and maintain a tasteful and distinctive, yet affordable mix of meat alternative basics in their shelves. Crucial variables for those products are a shelf life that fits the product’s rotation, sustainability, and nutritional value to confirm that the consumer has made a healthy alternative choice. Finding the right texture and taste can be extra challenging as consumer preferences in taste, tenderness, and texture vary widely between countries. For instance, Irish and UK consumers typically prefer more tender and juicier chicken than the French, who enjoy a tougher bite.

 

No additives during production
From a technical perspective, this requires meat alternative basics with several characteristics. First of all, they should have an appealing texture and a nice but subtle taste to make them widely applicable for all sorts of cooking. Second, the raw materials for the product should be nutritional and sustainably produced, with preferably no additives added during production. Third, a large and efficient production capacity is needed for cost-efficiency and competitive prices – enabling price parity with actual meat products . Our Plenti® technology caters to all three of these aspects, and our development process is fundamentally aligned with this.

 

 

“Creating a lineup of affordable meat alternatives basics, like chicken pieces and ground beef, that are both delicious and distinctive, challenges retailers and category managers. With the explosive increase of meat alternative products in the shelves, the key now lies in crafting offerings with amazing meat mimicking textures, great taste and other key characteristics that meet consumers’ expectations. Luckily, our unique cutting-edge technology opens up a world of possibilities for crafting these irresistible alternatives. We can create a great variety of textures, mimicking for instance, chicken, pork or beef, but also in taste and in shapes, like chunks, cubes, strips, flakes or pulled. Imagine the opportunities!”.

 

 

 

Numerous options for tailoring
Thanks to our almost fifteen years of experience in the meat and fish alternatives industry, Ojah has grown fully familiar with the challenges to create meat imitating products for a winning ‘plant-based’ shelf. Through High Moisture Extrusion technology, using only water and plant protein as raw materials and adding just a minor amount of vegetable oil, salt and flavouring, we have created a product with a texture similar to meat, for example chicken. Our solution meets the highest quality standards and offers numerous options for tailoring in taste, size, tenderness and other characteristics.

 

Exploring new technological possibilities
Driven by curiosity and the absolute will to win more consumers for plant-based food, we are constantly exploring new technological possibilities. Together with our partner Kerry, we develop and expand our offer in flavour profiles for further differentiation – making sure our products resonate with different consumer preferences in taste. When it comes to bite, our ambition is to further utilize technology to create a bigger variation in textures and shapes, such as pulled and flakes. We will also continue to explore other protein sources, for instance yellow peas , fava beans, mung beans, lupine and hemp.

 

Sustainable by nature
By offering plant-based alternatives that meet customers’ expectations, Ojah is sustainable by nature. Nevertheless, we are constantly looking for ways to further reduce the footprint of our operations. In doing so, we often set the bar way higher than what is legally required. Our new production facility was designed with sustainability in mind. We, for instance have 2.500 solar panels on the roof and we re-use the heat from waste cooking water. And did you know, that all of our locally sourced raw materials are Donau Soja/ Europe Soy certified, and have one of the lowest CO2 footprints of all soy crops in Europe and even worldwide? While recent EU legislation dictates that the term deforestation-free is only to be used for products from areas that have not been deforested for some 4 years, Donau Soja certified products raise the bar with a standard of 20 years deforestation-free.

 

Next generation standard
Examples like the above reflect me and my colleagues’ will to grow a more sustainable business and to set a new standard for the whole plant-based food production chain. Personally, for my future children’s generation and beyond, I hope we can achieve that cooking in the future will no longer be a matter of replacing meat but about adding healthy and nutritious fibres, protein and bite to our diets. We are ready to create the next generation of meat alternatives, will you join us?
                                                                                                                                                                                  Manouk Wolbert

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