Market insights critical to tapping plant-based ingredients trend

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Growing demand for plant-based ingredients is on everyone’s radar, but not all companies understand exactly what consumers want. Through in-depth trend analyses and strategy development, New Nutrition Business helps companies reorient their businesses to meet specific market needs.

What sets New Nutrition Business apart, according to Director Julian Mellentin, is the fact that the consultancy goes beyond the superficial in order to identify concrete strategies that companies can adopt. This is a key message he hopes to convey during his presentation at the Fi Conference.

“There has been a lot of talk about the potential of plant-based ingredients,” he says. “Yes, it exists, but what does this really mean for ingredient and branded companies? What are the concrete opportunities, and what are the products that connect with consumers?”

consumers

Global perspective
Established in 1995, New Nutrition Business provides expert consultancy services to ingredient and branded product companies on all aspects related to nutrition and health. Inspiration for the business came from Japan, a pioneer in functional foods, and followed Mellentin’s intuition that this was a trend set to sweep Europe. “I don’t think that Europe truly understands just how many great ideas start in Asia,” he says.

This appreciation of cross-cultural learning is reflected in the current makeup of the company. Some 15 staff operate out of offices in London, Glasgow, Portugal and New Zealand, and there is a filiate company in Tokyo. An impressive 14 nationalities are represented – “I’m the only Englishman,” says Mellentin – and about 95 % of business is conducted outside the UK.

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Beyond the hype
From this international perspective, New Nutrition Business identifies key trends and assesses the opportunities and risks in order to develop implementable strategies. In the plant-based trend for example, Mellentin notes that consumer demand for more plant-based ingredients is not the same as being vegetarian. Furthermore, ‘flexitarian’ is a term that consumers almost never call themselves. “This is typical of how the food industry comes up with word that their researchers like,” he says. “What we do instead is focus on consumers.”

Another trap that ingredient manufacturers fall into is believing the hype around their own technology. “It’s a bit like a teenage crush; it’s not really based on anything,” says Mellentin. “Their focus should be on what consumers want. Consumers might want the benefits of plants, but they might not be all that excited about technology. Pea protein is a good example of this. If you go on social media, you’ll see that people really don’t know what pea protein is.”

Mellentin suggests that manufacturers should instead focus on the technical benefits of their ingredient; whether it tastes better or offers better texture. The advantages should be linked to what consumers actually want.

Delivering on consumer demands
For food companies that go beyond the hype, the opportunities are there. Mellentin identifies convenience as the factor driving the plant-based ingredient sector. “People have wanted to include more plants in their diet for a long time, but in more convenient forms,” he said. “This is perhaps the single most important issue. For example, people don’t want to have to buy spinach, and then have to wash it, chop it and cook it.”

This has created opportunities for ingredient and branded product firms to blend plants with existing products, such as bread, dairy and even meat-based products, in order to increase plant content. This, at the end of the day, is what consumers are looking for. “I don’t think any food product category should be ruled out,” says Mellentin. “And if it is possible for consumers to experience a tangible benefit, then this is a big plus.”

Finally, Mellentin is looking forward to connecting with old and new customers at Food ingredients Europe 2019. “For us it is a rare opportunity to find everyone in one place, under one roof,” he says. “We’ll hopefully be able to demonstrate how our in-depth understanding of this marketplace has enabled us to retain customers for 25 years.”

New Nutrition Business Director Julian Mellentin will present 'Plant-based: how to connect to the blossoming opportunities' at the Fi Conference on 3 December at 16:15.