By JIE YING LEE, Senior Strategic Marketing Manager, Plant-Based, Kerry Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa
While more consumers seek out plant-based alternatives to stay healthier and live more sustainably, plant-based meat has primarily been the focus. However, what’s rapidly catching up is the dairy cheese alternative category.
In Asia Pacific, non-dairy cheese is leading in new launches within the region’s dairy alternative category, making good on its projected 60% CAGR from 2018-2020 and outpacing global’s 18% within the same period. Much of the adoption is coming from quick service and casual restaurants across the region.
According to an Innova report, the non-dairy cheese market has evolved from western dishes to snacks like cheese sticks, slices and dips. Mozzarella and cheddar products dominate the segment and is hugely popular in foodservice, an area forecast to have the fastest growth rate.
Interest in plant based cheese is on the rise, but how do they compare with dairy cheese? (Photo source: Kerry)
Plant-based cheese is also enjoying growth in wider Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa − 65% of consumers are open to trying dairy alternative cheese, with new launches in this category set at 31% CAGR from 2016 to 2020.
Yet, despite increasing appetite for non-dairy cheese, replicating a plant-based cheese alternative that tastes great, melts like dairy cheese and is available as easy-to-separate slices, poses a big challenge to brands and manufacturers.
Kerry’s latest proprietary consumer research found that 78% of consumers would buy plant-based cheese if it were tasty. In the Philippines for instance, where consumer interest in plant-based foods is higher than global interest, availability of plant-based cheese is an issue but 79% of consumers in the Philippines would try it if it tasted good and creamy. With general consensus focused on how the flavour of non-dairy cheese pales by comparison to animal dairy cheese, bumping up taste is the biggest challenge for food manufacturers.
Next to taste, texture and creaminess are important considerations for 65% of consumers, while 59% would pick plant-based cheese based on the perception that it is more nutritious.
Matching the taste of dairy is complex, not least because of the multiple layers and dimensions behind recreating the taste of dairy in plant-based products.
The main issue: current plant-based products do not adequately mask the base notes before dairy flavours are added. The result is an overdose of dairy flavours. Then there is poor aroma: non-dairy dairy flavours often give off an acidic aroma when used at levels needed to overcome the natural substrate flavour.
Another consideration: how dairy cheese reacts under heating and cooking, as well as how it tastes, requires very specific attributes that’s tough to replicate. Most non-dairy cheese alternatives try to achieve both, and fail.
As non-dairy alternatives tend to have a high starch content so that it can be sliced, grated and formed, texture becomes an issue – you get a product that is rubbery, bouncy with a distasteful mouthfeel when eaten cold.
The high starch content in non-dairy cheese slices also prevents a nice melt under normal conditions. There are also problems around handling, with current plant-based cheese offerings coming in brittle slices and grates, which break very easily when used.
Last but not least, cost can be a real barrier. Plant-based cheese alternatives require a high degree of processing and raw materials, which is costly and that is ultimately transferred to the consumer. At present, animal dairy cheese is a menu standard, not plant-based cheese. This means it must bring more value to the consumer than dairy cheese if priced at a premium. Operationally, the cost and complexity of delivering another product must be balanced if it is to be sustainable.
A Research and Markets report shows the global market for plant-based cheese alternatives is valued at €5.6bn. Of this, APMEA is set at 13.5% CAGR by 2028, even higher than the 12% globally. Knowing how to work with the process and key functional requirements is the key to creating a tasty plant-based cheese product that would satisfy the growing appetite for dairy alternative cheese.
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