Symrise: Plant-based protein success relies on meeting consumer expectations

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Three consumer and culinary experts from Symrise presented the company’s research on succeeding in the plant-based protein industry.

What comes to your mind when you hear ‘plant-based meat’? Is it artificial, lab-created, sustainable, or weird-tasting? Most vegans shy away from the concept of cultured meat — there are many misconceptions and apprehensions attached to it. However, it is vital that we give this alternative a chance for the sake of our planet’s health and sustainability.

The plant-based protein industry is constantly working to fight the stigmas attached to this sustainable product and it has come a long way. The production and demand for plant-based proteins has been steadily increasing over the past decade. Due to this, the flexitarian diet is being embraced by more and more people.

According to Sustainalytics, 34% of UK residents considered themselves flexitarian in 2018, 6% more than the previous year. This trend isn’t just limited to the UK; Innova Market’s studies show 38% of flexitarian consumers in the US and 69% in Germany. 

These statistics prove that a flexible customer base has been established and growing. But, as mentioned, this growth comes with its own set of challenges. Food scientists and researchers are working to create plant-based meat that replicates real meat. Although there are many flexitarians who are giving this meat alternative a chance, we are still a long way from acceptance, and many experts are working to find a path to that acceptance.

Flavour and fragrance producer Symrise has hired many experts to enhance their plant-based protein research. It is a company dedicated to making products that represent flavours, scent and nutrition.

It recently hosted a webinar that presented its efforts to make plant-based proteins more appealing and delicious. Three panellists represented Symrise: Dr Gerhard E Krammer, senior vice president of the research and technology division; Dr Katja M Tiitinen, director of sensory and consumer insights; and Matthias Hille, director of culinary category management. The presentation was primarily focused on the types of consumers, their expectations and theoretical solutions to meeting those needs.

Symrise believes in three main steps to “making plant-based protein taste great” and appeal to the masses. These are turning foreign notes into balanced profiles, delivering mouthfeel and juiciness, and creating a signature dish.

Hille emphasised on the importance of achieving a double-digit growth rate in the plant-based alternatives world. Today, like Symirse, a multitude of companies have invested in the plant-based protein market and it is crucial for this industry to “go from niche to mainstream”.

He also highlighted that “feeding the world without consuming the earth” is the primary aim of Symrise’s alternative product. According to him, the success factors lies in speedily introducing good quality alternatives to this evolving flexitarian world.

Therefore, Symrise has been working towards “decoding the consumer”, so one can understand their expectations and have experts cater to those needs. Titinen provided a progress timeline of the company’s plant-based protein project. Since the research was introduced in 2017, Symrise has been committed to understanding the consumer’s motivations, preferences and expectations. In 2021, the company hopes to design a product that provides a “superior consumer experience”.

symrise plant based proteinAccording to a survey conducted by Symrise, its current consumers fall under five spectrums:

  • Healthy meat lovers: This target market consumes meat to fulfil their protein and necessary nutrients needs. These consumers do not compromise on their choice of proteins.
  • Unconcencered consumers: These consumers are unbothered by their meat or vegetable intake and their dietary plans aren’t restricted due to any external factors.
  • Vegan idealists: These people’s diets are often inspired by environmental, sustainablity and animal rights aspects. Vegetarians and vegans fall under this spectrum. 
  • Healthy flexitarians: A healthy flexitarian usually opts for a balanced diet with a proportionate amount of meat and vegetables. These consumers base their food intake on the necessary health requirements.
  • Clean flexitarians: Just like healthy flexitarians, clean flexitarians are conscious of their dietary habits. However, unlike the healthy consumers, they base their motivation on ecological rather than health factors.

Titinen mentioned that breaking down consumers into these spectrums has helped Symrise better design their product. Its main target audience belongs to flexitarians, who are the most willing to accept meat alternatives. But she said the current market deters many of these consumers away from plant-based proteins, as the product doesn’t meet their texture, smell and taste expectations.

Krammer further added to Titinen’s point regarding the challenges the current plant-based protein faces. He explained that today’s alternative products get an array of complaints about being dry, bitter, beanie, and lacking the overall juiciness that of conventional meat.

Symrise is currently working to meet all the expectations of its consumers. Krammer added that in order to create a superior product, they have to meet certain benchmarks. Apart from the basic expectations of the taste and texture of the protein, food scientists have to ensure the product has a rich, binding flavour.

Furthermore, Krammer mentioned some other benchmarks plant-based alternatives needs to be wary of. These include the sustainability factor, potential allergy risks, the availability of ingredients, and the biological value of the protein.

The Symrise food research team is currently working to design a plant-based protein that will meet the wants and needs of its consumers. Its plant-based experts use the best natural ingredients, industrial applied science experiments, clear labelling, and consumer-driven data to design the alternative. The company hopes to one day find the perfect solution in its taste-balancing research for a cleaner meat alternative.