“Plant-based beverages are expected to grow massively in the coming years. But consumer trends move fast, so producers need to be flexible to keep up,” says Maria Norlin, Category Manager JNSD & Plant-based beverages.
Consuming plant-based beverages is a relatively new activity in many parts of the world. But in a global perspective, it’s part of a long tradition. Soy beverages were mentioned in Chinese texts as early as 1365. And almond drink is claimed to have been brought into southern Europe more than a thousand years ago.
Today, this plant-based product category is growing fast, especially in Europe and North America, where experts predict double-digit growth in the coming years. This rising popularity is due to three major and interacting trends.
“It’s a combination of health concerns, sustainability and an increased urge for different sources of nutrition. People increasingly want to eat healthily, lower their carbon footprint and are open for new tastes and alternative ingredients,” says Norlin.
The overall volume of plant-based beverages is still small compared to traditional dairy, but non-dairy alternatives based on, for example, oat, soy and coconut are growing fast worldwide. However, there are still many regional differences, both in the pace of growth and which products consumers connect within different markets.
“In Asia, for example, soy is still a very common product. Meanwhile, oats are getting more common in the West. Africa has not yet met the plant-based trend at all. But it will come,” says Norlin.
For producers who want to capture the growing number of consumers who favour plant-based beverages, one thing is crucial: flexibility.
“Since trends are shifting so fast, you need to try things and see if they work in a given market, and then iterate,” says Norlin. “So a flexible production capability is crucial in the future.”
With equipment from Tetra Pak, you have the required flexibility built-in from the start. As new demands arise, you can upgrade – and the main asset you require is knowledge. Where that might be lacking, Tetra Pak’s experts are there to help.
Generally speaking, there are three major considerations when comparing plant-based and standard dairy production.
First, you need to select the right ingredients and invest time in recipe development. What raw material will you start with: liquid compounds, powders or whole grains or beans? And what other ingredients do you need to add to create the right product composition and mouthfeel? The ingredient handling, the pre-treatment area, is vital when it comes to plant-based production.
Secondly, depending on what ingredients you start with, different process design and parameters are required. This can be a challenge since the proteins in plant-based products behave differently than dairy proteins. In addition, production is not standardized to the same extent as in the dairy industry. At least not yet. But based on our long experience within UHT-treated products, and the growing number of successful installations for plant-based beverages, we can supply you with the expertise you need to optimise your process. And as we’re a partner for both processing and packaging solutions, we have a unique understanding of the entire production process and value chain, all the way to the consumer.
“For someone who wants to produce both dairy and plant-based products in the same line, cleaning, separation, sterilization of the ingredients, and production planning will be crucial,” says Norlin.
The option is, of course, to produce plant-based on dedicated lines. Which, as the plant-based movement will continue to affect our industry, may turn out to be a pretty good idea.
What does the future look like for plant based?
See Maria Norlin explain the future of plant-based.
THREE GENERATIONS OF PLANT-BASED PRODUCTS:
The first generation is made of soybeans and nuts, where the most common is almond.
Today, we are moving towards the second generation, where grains like oats and rice are becoming more popular.
In five years, we expect to see the third generation, where seeds will be more common, such as peas, chia seed, chickpeas and quinoa.
Beyond this, we see an increased presence of lab-grown proteins. Insect protein is another thing we might see more of in the future.