Plant-based alternative products are a booming market
Once upon a time, animal milk was the only option for certain recipes. Today, that’s no longer the case, and you can find plant-based alternatives to milk made from a variety of grains, nuts, and legumes.
These versatile ingredients are making their way into breakfast foods, coffee, sauces, and even desserts like soft-ice and custards—and more people than ever are interested in trying or buying them—even if they’re not vegan.
"100% PLANT BASED MILK ALTERNATIVE COFFEE DRINKS, DESSERTS, & MAIN DISHES ARE IN DEMAND.“ - THE GLOBAL
The UK Plant-Based milks alternatives category is currently worth £394 million and estimated to be over £500 million by 20231
Plant-based alternatives are not just for vegans
Studies2 have shown that there are multiple factors behind the growing demand for plant-based milk alternative options.
37% choose them because of health & wellness, 21% because of lactose intolerance or allergies, 12% just because of taste, 12% for environmental & animal welfare concerns, and 7% because they are interested in trying new things.
3 reasons to offer more plant-based options
- Capture a new audience of vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians.
- Keep existing customers who want to change their eating habits.
- Accept larger groups by satisfying everyone in the party.3
How to choose which plant-based alternatives are right for your menu?
Choices, choices! The arrival of so many plant-based products on the market is great news for chefs, baristas, and consumers because it means they can pick the right option for every situation. There’s no one best answer. Instead, consider how products made with each of these sources compare when choosing what to offer your guests.
Different plant-based products offer something for everyone. You should take into consideration flavour, function, nutrients as well as sustainability. So, here are 10 tips to keep in mind when putting together your menu for plant-based options.
When it comes to picking the right plant-based product, taste and performance may be top of mind, but your final decision may come down to other factors, too. For example, sustainability is an urgent reason to use more plant-based options. The global food system is responsible for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions4, and unless people’s habits change, the environmental effects of the food system could reach levels beyond the planetary boundaries that are safe for humanity by 2050.5
However, even 100% plant-based products vary in sustainability. Farming each kind of crop takes varying amounts of water and land and releases a range of greenhouse gas emissions. There are trade-offs for each choice, but overall, peas and soy score well on sustainability measures and have an established pipeline to the market, and chickpeas and fava look favourable for developing future products. Growing peas and other legumes that add nitrogen to the soil can also limit the use of chemical fertilizers, helping to contribute to a more stable climate.6
Dietary needs and preferences
But there are still other factors that may influence your choice. Dietary diversity, nutrient adequacy, and balanced energy intake are equally important. And while they don’t apply to everyone, food allergies are an important safety consideration, too.
The accessibility and affordability of all options will play into your final decision because if you can’t find or afford an ingredient, it won’t end up in your kitchen or dining room.
Protein content in plant-based options
Some protein is found naturally in the plants used to make these plant-based alternatives, like soy and peas. In addition to being an important nutrient, it also helps gel yoghurt and cheese and interacts with enzymes to create specific tastes and textures. Beverages formulated for baristas usually contain additional protein to help them perform up to coffee house standards.
Fat/Oil ingredients in plant-based alternatives
Fat is an essential component of dairy, responsible for its creamy appearance, texture, and mouthfeel. However, since it's lacking in many plants, fats and oils from rapeseed, sunflower seed, olives, soybeans, or coconut may be added to products to recreate the experience that people expect.
Plants contain varying amounts of natural sugars which can affect the sweetness of the final product. Cane sugar may be added to some plant-based products to recreate the sweetness of lactose naturally found in cow’s milk, reduce bitterness, or simply help the plant ingredients blend more easily so their flavour does not overwhelm a recipe.
Some products, such as pea- or oat-based beverages, create foam easily when subjected to steam or frothing. Other ingredients may also be added to help produce foam and froth in foods and beverages.
Stabilizers & Emulsifiers
Xanthan gum (derived from microbial fermentation), guar gum (a natural extract from guar beans), or carrageenan (a seaweed extract) may be added to stabilize and thicken these products, creating a creamy texture. Soy and sunflower lecithin are also used for emulsifying, and other plant products can be used as buffer systems.
The presence or absence of strong flavours can both work in a product’s favour. For example, the rich taste of coconut is a plus in some dishes, while neutral flavours are preferred when you want other ingredients to shine. Some products also contain vanilla, chocolate, or other flavours to enhance their taste.
Some of the plants used to make these plant-based alternative products may be lacking in some vitamins or minerals needed for human health. For that reason, they may be fortified with key nutrients such as vitamin B12, iron, calcium, or vitamin D, which are lacking in many people’s diets.
WHOLE COW’S MILK
3.2g Total fat
Established flavour and performance.
1.9g Total fat
Very neutral taste with high protein & excellent foaming
1.5g Total fat
High nutrient profile, neutral flavour, & good foaming
2.1 Total fat
Certified gluten-free options are available.
7.5g Total fat
Exotic taste & creamy texture that won’t water down.
1.1g Total fat
Allergen: Tree nut
Widely appreciated for its distinctive, nutty taste
1.0g Total fat
Samples arranged according to protein content.
Nutritional values per 100 ml.7
(NUTRITION FACTS - Information is based on available databases and does not represent all products in the market)
1. IRI All Outlets, w/e July 2021
2. Plant-Based Consumer Insights | Synergy Flavors (synergytaste.com)
3. Should Your Restaurant Add Vegan Menu Options (touchbistro.com)
4. .Crippa, M. et al. Food systems are responsible for a third of global anthropogenic GHG emissions. Nature Food. 2021.
5. Springmann, M. Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits. Nature. 2018.
6. Creating a sustainable food system | Accelerating Climate Action: Refocusing Policies through a Well-being Lens | OECD iLibrary (oecd-ilibrary.org)
7. FoodData Central (usda.gov) - USDA Food Database