Sustainability and health concerns are driving Australian consumers to plant-based meat alternatives, but the taste experience of these products continues to fall short, according to research from global taste and nutrition company Kerry Group.
In 2022, Kerry carried out research with over 1,500 consumers across four countries–Australia, US, UK, and Brazil– to uncover sensory expectations around plant-based burgers, and cheese alternative slices. The research found that flexitarians, the key consumer group driving the growth of plant-based, are more critical of products versus vegan and vegetarian consumers. While sustainability is a top driver, consumers are unwilling to compromise on taste and seek products that are as close to the taste experience of animal products as possible.
The research uncovered the main drivers in Australia, as well as the attributes that Australian consumers seek when purchasing plant-based burgers. The research uncovered the following:
- A total of 60 per cent of Australian consumers started eating plant-based products because they are considered ‘healthier’ and 51 per cent continue to buy plant-based for their positive impact on the environment.
- In Australia, the benchmark is a fresh burger grilled on a BBQ or eaten in a restaurant, with 76 per cent of consumers willing to buy a plant-based burger described as “authentic chargrilled-tasting.”
- The entire taste experience must be considered, specifically the first bite. Among Australians, 74 per cent expect a burger with a meaty firmness to have great texture.
- The cooking process is crucial. Consumers expect to hear a sizzling sound as soon as they place the patty in the hot pan, just like with a beef burger. Not only does a sizzle create the all-important drama in the pan, it also creates positive expectations that the burger will be tasty and succulent — 62 per cent of Australian consumers expect a burger that cooks like beef with a satisfying sizzle to be delicious.
Taste as a gateway
Although beef is the benchmark, consumer expectations for plant-based burgers go beyond just the taste experience and are in fact higher. Australian consumers desire products with improved succulence and a ‘bite’ that feels as close to meat as possible. They also seek cooking cues such as caramelising, which signal that a burger is perfectly cooked and safe to eat, and want meat alternatives with improved nutrition.
Commenting on the findings, Kirsty Down, Technical Sales Development Director at Kerry Australia and New Zealand said: “With plant-based foods, the demand for a great taste experience is universal. However, delivering a great taste experience involving the full sensorial experience of sight, sound and texture is highly complex and in plant-based foods it is inherently more challenging because the bar is set high with meat as the benchmark, particularly among Australia’s flexitarian consumers.”
“The flexitarian consumer, the key consumer group driving category growth in plant-based foods across the world, is actively trying to cut their meat and dairy consumption. However, as they still eat meat and dairy products, their plant-based taste expectations are driven by these experiences. Overall, our research found that flexitarians are more critical of the plant-based products currently available on the market,” says Down.
“Ease of cooking is also important for Australians as consumers are not familiar cooking with plant-based products. This presents more opportunities in convenient meal or ready prepared plant-based meals. Delivering great taste, along with convenience, improved nutrition and sustainability credentials, will be key to creating winning plant-based products consumers want.”
Focusing specifically on plant-based burgers and plant-based cheese alternatives, we embarked on a six-month journey of exploration with consumers in four key plant-based markets around the world; USA, UK, Australia and Brazil. Our global research teams combined different analytical and insight techniques including market trawls, qualitative and quantitative consumer research to get under the skin of consumers’ plant-based taste experience.
To truly understand the consumer, we conducted digital ethnography and sensory immersions – we (virtually) stepped into consumer kitchens around the world and observed consumers preparing and eating plant-based burgers and plant-based cheese alternatives.
The resulting insight is a deeper understanding of consumers’ desired taste experience from plant-based including:
• Their delighters, pain points, and unmet expectations
• How consumers perceive the different sensory attributes
Kerry Group plc is a public food company headquartered in Ireland. Kerry provides insight, research, execution and thought leadership to food and beverage companies, partnering customers to create a world of sustainable nutrition, led by expertise in taste. See more here.