The market for healthier food options is now a booming one, with a distinct spotlight on plant-based alternatives.
Especially in recent years, the perceived healthier nature of plant-based alternatives has played an influential role in steering consumer interest towards it. Promoting long-term health is a key driver for 70 percent of people choosing plant-based foods. Coupled with increasing concerns over environmental sustainability and animal welfare, the plant-based movement is not expected to be losing steam anytime soon.
For Asia-Pacific in particular, the dairy alternatives segment has always been popular, with the market projected to reach USD 12.44 billion by 2026. It is also one of the regions most affected by a high prevalence of lactose intolerance. Globally, amongst flexitarians, which are people with a primarily vegetarian diet, nearly half (49 percent) are already buying alternatives to dairy, with another third expressing their interest in them, thus making it a sizable market for manufacturers to effectively tap into.
The case for taste and texture
However, for manufacturers to leverage this trend, understanding behavioural motivations will be key. Time and again, taste and texture arise as an important aspect for consumers, with 46 percent paying attention to pleasant taste and texture when shopping for dairy alternatives as shown in BENEO’s research. Almost 3 out of 4 global consumers also find it (very) important that dairy alternatives should have a similar full-bodied mouthfeel to products containing dairy, and 47 percent say that tastier products would encourage them to buy more dairy alternatives.
The rise of rice: why manufacturers should consider it
It’s clear that regardless of whether consumers are forgoing dairy for health or environmental concerns, the vast majority still do not want to sacrifice indulgence. To cater to consumer expectations, manufacturers can look to rice ingredients to create full-bodied alternatives that are more than a match for milk-based products.
In fact, BENEO’s research shows that 7 out of 10 flexitarians see rice as an appealing source for dairy alternatives. BENEO offers an extensive portfolio of rice ingredients for the production of plant-based dairy alternatives with appealing sensory properties, including organic varieties and the world’s first instant functional native rice starch.
BENEO’s functional native rice starches provide high stability for foods with demanding processing conditions, such as low pH values or high shear forces. Furthermore, rice starch is mild in taste and neutral in colour, and is particularly appealing to consumers who suffer not only from lactose intolerance but also other digestive issues. That’s because it is easy to digest, which makes it an important ingredient in baby food too. The instant variant is particularly suitable for products that are processed cold, such as desserts or bakery cream.
Additionally, BENEO’s Nutriz range, which consists of blends of dried rice syrup, rice flour, and rice starch, also enables the development of plant-based cocoa bars that provide a nice taste, good snap, and smooth mouthfeel. Moreover, using Nutriz in dairy alternative drinks and desserts helps to create a smooth and full-bodied texture, similar to dairy drinks.
Responding to the clean label demand
Rice ingredients can also be a viable solution to the demand for clean label products. Thanks to its enduring appeal, clean label can no longer be considered a trend. For more than a decade, an ever-increasing number of manufacturers have been responding to consumer demand for a simplified list of recognizable ingredients. According to market analyst Mintel, 29 percent of new product launches worldwide are now clean label.
Rice starch and rice flour score highly in this context: people perceive them as a natural and familiar cupboard ingredient, with 61 percent of consumers worldwide regarding rice starch as natural, and 71 percent feeling the same about rice flour. When asked about common starch and flour ingredients (rice, corn, potato, tapioca, and wheat), rice came out on top as a ‘cupboard ingredient’ (67 percent), ‘healthy’ (58 percent), and ‘easy to digest’ (51 percent).
With this in mind, BENEO’s portfolio of specialty rice ingredients is ideal clean label texturisers that can be used by manufacturers to develop dairy alternatives.
Maximising the plant-based momentum
The potential of the dairy alternatives market in Asia-Pacific should be capitalized on, given the increased health consciousness and prevalence of lactose intolerance in the region. As demand soars, manufacturers must keep factors like taste and texture which influence consumers’ purchasing decisions top of mind. By strategically leveraging ingredients like those derived from rice, manufacturers will be better positioned to cater to consumers’ nutritional expectations and ride on the plant-based wave.
Contributed by Christian Philippsen, Managing Director, Asia Pacific, BENEO