The demand from consumers for plant-based products in Europe continues to expand. To answer the growing demand from the market, food manufacturers (ingredients, finished products, etc.) have been developing new products over the past years.
Plant-based foods: what does it include?
Europeans’ consumption of plant-based products in the last 2 years has grown by 49%. In recent years, the core growth in the plant-based market is driven by demand from flexitarians.(1)
Currently the main categories of plant-based alternatives for animals products are:
- Dairy substitute,
- Meat substitute,
- Other plant-based products (plant-based eggs, plant-based ingredients, plant-based seafood...)
Plant-based alternatives to dairy and meat, are mainly based on soy, almond, rice, wheat, oat, coco and other non-animal products. Plant-based food products include drinks, alternatives to yogurt, desserts, creams, ice creams, cheese and spreads, as well as tofu, tempeh, seitan and alternatives to meat products such as plant-based burgers or ready-meals.
According to the EU consumers survey, the most purchased plant-based products are meat and dairy alternatives, although European countries vary in terms of their consumption of other plant-based food categories. Plant-based consumers think that there are not enough plant-based options available in any category. Additionally, plant-based food products are perceived as expensive and in some cases improvements in taste and texture are still needed. To satisfy this increase in demand producers, retailers and food services are working to provide innovative solutions to meat, dairy and fish to offer plant-based meat and fish alternatives to market, including vegan alternatives.
(1) ProVeg International (2020): European Consumer Survey on Plant-based Foods – Describing the product landscape and uncovering priorities for product development and improvement. Report. Berlin. https://smartproteinproject.eu/
The European plant-based food manufacturers are associated to promote plant-based diet towards more sustainable and healthier food consumption patterns and to advance plant-based foods as a vital part of the transition towards more sustainable and healthy food systems.
Plant-based products: Safety and quality
Some of the main challenges for plant-based alternatives in terms of food safety and quality are:
- Endospore-forming bacteria from raw materials (plants and seeds) that survive heating and may produce toxins.
- Allergenic proteins (from plant-based ingredients, specially insect proteins)
- Pathogenic bacteria (from insect proteins)
- Parasites (from insect proteins)
- PAH, Nitrosamines and heterocyclic aromatic amines may also occur in plant-based alternatives
- Heavy metals, pesticides, hexane (in soy isolates)
- Antinutrients. Legume seeds contain protein inhibitors of enzymes, phytic acids,....
- Off-Flavors produced during processing of plant materials (grassy, beany flavors from soybeans, bitter and astringent flavors from saponins and isoflavones. It’s necessary to formulate to mask or reduce the potency of these off-flavors.
- Formulation, reformulation, shelf-life studies and process validation will be necessary to conduct to assure the expiration dates and safety of new plant-based product services.
- Meat alternatives products have near-neutral pH and high protein and moisture content, making them susceptible to microbial growth. Extrusion treatment is a critical control point that promotes the safety and shelf-life of the product.
Vegan diet excludes animal-based foods such as meat, including fish, as well as animal-derived products such as dairy and eggs. In the case of vegan products, it will be necessary to perform species identification.
Plant-based foods and their regulation in Europe
European Plant-based sector is regulated for the general food regulations in the EU:
- General Food Law - Regulation (EC) No 178/2002
- General Rules of Food Hygiene - Regulation (EC) No 852/2004
- Labelling - Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011
- Health Claims - Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006
- Additives - Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008
- Flavourings - Regulation (EC) No 1334/2008
- Fortification with vitamins and minerals - Regulation (EC) No 1925/2006
- Contaminants - Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006, Council Regulation (EEC) No 315/93, Regulation (EC) No 333/2007
- Acrylamide - Regulation (EU) 2017/2158
- Pesticides - Regulation (EC) No 396/2005
- Irradiation - Directive 1999/2/EC
- Extraction solvents - Directive 2009/32/EC
- Official Controls in Europe - Regulation (EU) 2017/625
In the frame, of some European Association, during 2020 and 2021, some campaigns were launched to call EU and national policy makers to take actions to actively support plant-based foods; to support clear food information on plant-based foods that guide and empower consumers to make healthier and more sustainable choices; to find a level playing field between plant- and animal-based products to secure consumers' equal access to healthy and sustainable foods; to allow food manufacturers to clearly communicate about their products towards consumers through the use of commonly understood terminology; to create fair market access for plant-based foods across Europe and remove existing barriers.
Producers must rely on adequate safety and quality controls to keep up with market needs in terms of:
- new formulations, innovative solutions and new ingredients,
- supply chain traceability,
- nutritional quality,
- health safety,
- selection of raw materials,
- standardization of best practices,
- presentation of product (packaging, advertising).
Furthermore, this category is changing very quickly with the approval of Novel Food that could be used as raw materials for this kind of products.
Discover how Mérieux NutriSciences' plant-based product services and how we can help you to meet the safety and quality requirements in Europe:
We provide support to the entire the supply chain of plant-based food: plant-based ingredients, meat and dairy alternatives, egg alternatives and all the final products with plant-based ingredients. Our main plant-based product services are:
Mould and yeasts, Salmonella spp, Listeria monocytogenes, Listeria spp, Staphylococcus, Escherichia coli, Enterobacteriaceae, Bacillus cereus presumptive, Bacillus and Clostridium spores...
- Microbiological stability
- Shelf life
- Accelerated shelf life
Nutritional analysis, Minerals and heavy metals, including inorganic arsenic, Vitamins, Fat profile, cholesterol, amino acids, Isoflavones, polyphenols, tannins, phytosterols, phytic acids, lignans, hydrocyanic acid, phenolic compounds, ...
Dioxins and PCBs similars to dioxins, Mycotoxins. Process contaminants: Acrylamide, MCPD esters and glycidyl esters, furans and methylfurans, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), Ethyl carbamate, Heterocyclic amines, Hydroxymethylfurfural. Benzopyrene. Pesticides / insecticides / herbicides / fungicides/Chlorates and Perchlorates. Furosine. Melamine and its analogues.Hydrogen peroxide …
- Species identification: q-RT PCR
- Allergen analysis: Gluten analysis, Food allergen analysis (PCR, Elisa, LC-MS/MS)
- Foreign particles
- Product Defects
- Labelling services: Labelling conformity, Claims validation (no meat, gluten-free, lactose-free), Legal revision of communication contents
- Consultancy services: Implementation of requirements of BRCGS plant-based, vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free standards, Consultancy and Technical opinions for producers and associations
- Supplier audits
- Internal audits
- Green packaging assessment
- Environmental monitoring
- Cleaning Validation (biocides)
- Supplier audits
- Internal audits
- Process validation
- Formulation assessment
- Crisis service 24 h/ 365 d
- BRC plant-based standard / Vegan standard requirements implementation
Sustainability and Packaging
- Food packaging testing material
- Global and specific migration tests
- MOSH and MOAH
- Biodegradability and compostability
- Consultancy for green packaging
Sensory and Consumer Research
- Consumer tests
- Expert panel test internal or external
- Training of internal expert panel
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