Consumers and Industry Interpret ‘Plant-Based’ in Different Ways

When food scientists and industry work to develop new, plant-based alternative proteins, they often have different ideas and vocabulary about those foods than the consumers they hope to serve.

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By Nancy Mann Jackson

When food scientists and industry work to develop new, plant-based alternative proteins, they often have different ideas and vocabulary about those foods than the consumers they hope to serve. And to make a difference for consumers, industry needs to understand what the consumers think about food technology and what they want from their foods, says Laurie Demeritt (The Hartman Group), in IFT20 session PR101.

In this session, Demeritt shares findings from a recent consumer study focused on plant-based food development. While consumers are becoming more open to alternative proteins, they also view technology related to food as something that can cause problems rather than provide solutions. It’s important for the food industry and food companies to communicate about the motivations behind food development and show consumers that they aim to make food healthier, not just make money.

Demeritt’s research also delves into the types of consumers that are interested in purchasing plant-based foods and why, as well as the gradual changes they might make in their diets before trying plant-based proteins.

While most consumers are aware that proteins are essential nutrients, they may not realize that all proteins are not created equal, says Moises Torres-Gonzalez, National Dairy Council. Some proteins include more or different amino acids, and some are more digestible than others. Understanding which proteins are more high-quality is important, especially for aging consumers, as new research shows that older adults need higher protein intake to remain healthy.

As the world’s population ages, the global demand for protein continues to rise, says Pam Ismail, University of Minnesota. Fortunately, the food science offers many options for developing new alternative proteins. Ismail shares a number of potential sources of plant-based protein products, such as field peas, oilseeds, hemp, and algae proteins. She discusses the advantages and the disadvantages of each one, providing food scientists and industry leaders with new ideas for meeting the growing needs of a protein-hungry population.


Learn more about plant-based food innovations and consumer perceptions by viewing this session in the SHIFT20 on-demand library. In addition, you can watch a panel discussion between the experts.

Registration for SHIFT20 provides access to the on-demand library of sessions for a full year.

Nancy Mann Jackson is a freelance writer based in Huntsville, Ala.

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