Veganising classic products is a great way for legacy brands to reduce costs and attract new customers. But how do you do it without sacrificing quality? ProVeg International recently held a webinar alongside an expert panel, who were able to share the inside scoop when it comes to replacing animal-based ingredients with plant-based alternatives. The panel consisted of Carole Bingley, Technical Specialist at Reading Scientific Services (RSSL); Jochen Pfeifer, Research Fellow at Mondelez International; and Corjan van den Berg, CEO at FUMI Ingredients.
Some of the key topics discussed included:
- How multifunctional ingredients can help to optimise taste and texture while avoiding long ingredient lists
- The role of equipment and finding the right supplier
- The key challenges involved in veganising products and how to overcome them
Make sure to watch the full video in order to enrich your knowledge on this fascinating topic, or read on to find out more…
What does it mean to ‘veganise’ a product, and why are more and more businesses doing it?
According to Carole, veganising a product means removing any animal-derived ingredients from the product and replacing them with plant-based alternatives in order to achieve a similar effect. Veganising a product in such a manner is an effective way to expand the array of choices available to consumers.
Drawing on his experience at Mondelez International, Jochen highlights the veganising process as an opportunity to reach those consumers who are loyal to the Mondelez brands but who are also looking to transition towards a more plant-based diet. “It’s important that the veganised products have a similar quality and share some of the key brand characteristics that consumers associate with the classic products,” he says.
It’s important that the veganised products have a similar quality and share some of the key brand characteristics that consumers associate with the classic products.”
All the panellists agree that increasing consumer choice is one of the central reasons behind the move to veganise products. In Jochen’s opinion, it is similar to expanding your product range to include sugar-free or calorie-reduced products – veganised products are another option in the larger trend towards well-being and health.
In this way, veganised products are not just for vegans. It is about reaching as many people as possible – including the health conscious, those who care about sustainability, the flexitarians and reducetarians, and vegans. “If a product wants to be successful,” Carole comments, “it needs to have appeal across the consumer base.”
However, drawing on his experiences working at FUMI Ingredients, Corjan notes that it is essential to really listen to the needs of your clients. For some companies, it is not necessarily about veganising for the sake of vegans, but rather for environmental impact. One corporate client of theirs decided that it would be more sustainable to remove the egg whites from their animal-based meatballs rather than their vegetarian meatballs. Although removing the egg whites from the latter would have expanded the options available to vegans, the environmental impact would have been less due to the fact the company produces a smaller volume of vegetarian meatballs compared to animal-based meatballs. When veganising certain ingredients in a product, a one-size-fits-all approach is not always best. “There’s a wide range of approaches in getting towards more sustainable products,” Corjan affirms.
A one size fits all approach is not always best – there are many pieces in the puzzle to consider to achieve the best outcome.
The role of equipment in veganising products
Veganising products means more than just swapping ingredients. According to our panellists, changes in ingredients can have a huge impact on the manufacturing process. Your company needs to be ready to take all of the necessary precautions in order to avoid issues further down the line.
Jochen emphasises the importance of understanding the level of adjustment and investment needed before you begin production of the plant-based alternative. This includes assessing which production lines to use, the volumes in which you want to make your product, and whether whole new systems will need to be implemented.
From Corjan’s perspective, such changes can be big or small. For example, a simple addition of a different kind of mixer can be all that is needed to adapt to plant-based ingredients with various viscosities.
Declaring allergens on back-of-pack is essential for consumers looking to avoid health risks.
Aside from these considerations, when veganising a product, you need to consider the allergens involved and how this may impact your production line. Carole points out that, when you replace ingredients, you risk introducing new allergens, such as soya or coconut. You will have to declare all of these new allergens on back-of-pack, along with any other allergens handled in the same facility.
“Consumers who are allergic to egg and milk will see vegan on front-of-pack and assume it’s safe to eat, but this has led to some reactions” Carole warns. “It’s a complicated area which needs careful consideration if you’re going to be handling both in the same factory.”
Jochen agrees and suggests that having the same allergen profile for a whole factory helps to reduce cross-contamination. At the same time, choosing plant-based ingredients with allergens in mind can help to reduce complications from the get-go. In Carole’s words, “It all comes back to ingredient selection.”
Choosing the right ingredients: tips and tricks
So, how can your company choose the right plant-based ingredients?
Carole suggests that multi-functionality is the key metric by which to judge ingredients. By choosing an ingredient that serves multiple purposes in the product – such as emulsification and gelling – you can keep the ingredients list as small as possible, which is attractive to consumers and saves your company both time and money.
However, Jochen warns against seeking out functionality at the expense of a clean label. Some ingredients, such as protein isolates, are extremely functional but also very processed. Instead, you might want to consider flour or protein concentrates, such as lentil flour, which have texture-building potential as well as greater consumer appeal.
Marketing your new veganised product
Once you have chosen the right ingredients and optimised the production process, it’s time to effectively market your new veganised product.
For Jochen, it goes back to providing consumers with more choice – the consumer needs to be informed about all of the choices available to them. Communicating this clearly through advertising and on the product itself is the easiest way to go about this.
In terms of ‘plant-based’ versus ‘vegan’ labelling, Carole suggests that ‘plant-based’ is preferred by mainstream consumers compared to the term ‘vegan’, and hence more and more products are focusing on this. If you’d like to know more about the plant-based versus vegan labelling debate, click here to read ProVeg’s full article, ‘To V or not to V? How does ‘vegan’ or ‘plant-based’ labelling impact mainstream appeal?’.
The cost of veganising: can we achieve price parity?
One of the biggest issues when organising a product is knowing how much to charge for it. It is a matter of weighing up consumer appeal with the raw cost of the typically more expensive plant-based ingredients, as well as the R&D and production costs.
Plant-based ingredients on the whole are a lot more expensive than the ingredients in traditional versions. It’s difficult to charge a lot more for the vegan version when you want [non-vegan] consumers to make the first purchase and try the product.”
Plant-based ingredients can be more expensive than animal-based ingredients, but it is not the only factor you must consider.
It is not just the ingredients which contribute to the high cost of veganised products, however. Jochen highlights the costs involved in changing the production processes, especially the cleaning processes necessary to avoid cross-contamination.
The difficulty is in finding the balance between the premium that consumers are willing to pay while still having the expected profitability at the end of the day.”
However, Corjan suggests that, with enough careful planning, the premium for plant-based products can be circumvented. Rather than attempting to simply swap out one ingredient for a plant-based one – which can be costly – you should instead rebuild your entire recipe from the ground up with cost in mind.
For more information on how your company can bring your plant-based products in line price-wise with their animal-based alternatives, make sure to read ProVeg’s article, ‘3 ways to achieve price parity and drive sales’.
The key challenges involved in veganising products
According to the panellists, there are three key challenges when trying to veganise a product:
- Balancing taste, texture, look, and nutrition with a clean label
One of the major challenges involved in replacing animal-based ingredients with plant-based ones is maintaining the right balance between nutrition, texture, and flavour.
For example, Carole highlights how milk as an ingredient adds protein and micronutrients to many products. As such, companies may want to keep this in mind when finding milk alternatives in order to match their nutrition profile and retain consumer appeal. In her company’s search to create a fish alternative, maintaining a similar nutrition profile was essential, but this led to problems regarding colour, as many plant-based protein sources are beige in colour, rather than the bright white of fish. Maintaining this balance between taste, nutrition and look is a huge challenge.
However, at the same time, the ingredients which do tick all of these boxes can run into the problem of not being “clean” enough for back-of-pack labels, using ingredients which are full of additives and are over-processed. Keeping this in mind – along with reducing allergen-related risks – can make the R&D process very complex.
As the food-and-beverage industry has traditionally used animal-based ingredients for centuries, they have had a huge head start in figuring out this balance. For plant-based products, it’s all new.
- Replicating all the functionalities of a single ingredient
Carole expands on the first challenge, drawing our attention to the various different uses of an egg – the ingredient that often needs replacing to make a product fully plant-based. “Eggs are amazing in terms of functionality. That’s what makes it so challenging, as it’s difficult to choose one single ingredient that replicates all of the egg’s functionalities,” she says.
Figuring out in the lab what specific function your replacement ingredient has is vital.
Corjan agrees, highlighting how many companies looking to veganise products wish to replace the egg with another ingredient and expect it to behave in the exact same way. He emphasises the importance of having an open mind when it comes to implementing new ingredients in a recipe. “You need to make modifications to the process to make the replacers work properly. None of them are [as immediately effective] as egg white, so you need to take this into consideration as well.”
Jochen draws on milk as another example. In cream cheese, the milk proteins act as an emulsifier and a gel, whereas in chocolate, the protein doesn’t have any direct functionality until it melts in the mouth. The functionality of the protein is totally different, and you will struggle to find a suitable milk replacement for your product unless you understand its role in detail.
You need to rebuild the product from the ground up, instead of just adding a bandage on top of the issue.”
3. Managing process performance
Another central challenge in veganising products is found in the process performance. Each different replacement ingredient acts differently in production and even the smallest of changes in texture or consistency can have a huge knock-on effect. In Jochen’s words, “There’s more of a challenge in the process performance than in the finished product itself.”
By carefully considering your ratio of ingredients and being willing to experiment and compromise, you will be able to better manage the process and reduce the risk of manufacturing complications down the line.
It is only natural that the plant-based industry is facing these issues. Traditional industries like dairy have had centuries if not millennia to perfect their processes, whereas companies today are trying to handle plant-based ingredients in consistently novel ways. Many questions concerning processes like rehydration and acidity regulation, for example, still need to be perfected.
“It’s a great learning journey,” Jochen says. “We’ve made great progress but we’re still not quite there yet.”
Make sure to check out our article on veganising classic products for more helpful tips along with case studies of brands who have already been successful in this category.
Our panellists offer key pieces of advice to any company looking to veganise one of their classic products:
Jochen’s advice is to start by fully understanding your existing product and collaborating, where possible, with other vendors. “We’re all learning. Take advantage of all the learnings we’re seeing from other vendors, in academia, and so forth.”
For Carole, understanding when to make compromises and when to stand firm is central for companies looking to develop veganised products. The best way to do this is to be clear on what’s important to your target consumer, and adjust accordingly.
Finally, Corjan underscores that there is no such thing as a simple one-to-one swap when veganising ingredients. “Keep an open mind when redesigning your current recipes,” he says. “Be willing to learn from ingredient suppliers as these people have a lot of experience. You’ll need to collaborate with them to make something that is fully vegan.”
As more and more people turn to plant-based eating, veganising classic branded products is going to become increasingly popular. At the same time, innovation and investment in the space means that novel ingredients will become increasingly versatile and functional. Consider taking the plunge into veganising consumer favourites today and begin to reap the benefits tomorrow, just like our panellists have.
If you’re still hungry for more, you can find further insights into similarly fascinating topics at ProVeg International’s New Food Hub, where you can also keep an eye out for our next webinar in the series. Don’t waste any time in finding out all the ways you can accelerate your company’s transition to net zero, increase your profits, and help to build a better world!