Sustainability and health concerns are driving consumers to plant-based meat alternatives, but the taste experience of these products continues to fall short, according to research carried out by Kerry, a taste and nutrition company. 

In 2022, Kerry carried out research with over 1,500 consumers across four countries – the United States, UK, Australia and Brazil – to uncover sensory expectations around plant-based burgers and cheese alternative slices. The research found that flexitarians, the key consumer group driving the growth of plant-based, are more critical of products versus vegan and vegetarian consumers. While sustainability is a top driver, consumers are unwilling to compromise on taste and seek products that are as close to the taste experience of animal products as possible. 

Kerry tested and evaluated 16 plant-based burgers and nine plant-based cheese slices. 

  • 63% of US consumers started eating plant-based products because they believe plant-based is ‘better for the planet’. A total of 80% of US consumers are likely to buy a plant-based burger that is ‘rich and savory’.
  • 39% are committed to improving animal welfare.
  • 77% are likely to buy a real dairy-like cheese for hot and cold occasions.
  • 77% would buy an authentic dairy-tasting cheese.

Although beef is the benchmark, consumer expectations for plant-based burgers go beyond just the taste experience and are in fact higher. Consumers desire products with improved succulence and a ‘bite’ that feels as close to meat as possible. They also seek cooking cues such as charring which signal that a burger is perfectly cooked and safe to eat and want meat alternatives with improved nutrition. 

“The need for a great taste experience is universal. For plant-based foods, which are often chosen by consumers as a more sustainable option, ensuring great taste can be a gateway to delivering innovative and sustainable nutrition solutions for consumers around the world. However, ensuring a great taste experience - involving a full sensorial experience of sight, sound and texture - is highly complex and in plant-based foods it is inherently more challenging because the bar is set high with meat and dairy as the benchmark,” said Fiona Sweeney, strategic marketing director at Kerry. 

“The flexitarian consumer, the key consumer group driving category growth in plant-based foods across the world, is actively trying to reduce their meat and dairy consumption. However, as they still eat meat and dairy products, their plant-based taste expectations are driven by these experiences. Overall, our research found that flexitarians are more critical of the plant-based products currently available on the market. Delivering great taste, along with improved nutrition and sustainability credentials, will be key to success in this category.”  

The global research teams combined different analytical and insight techniques including market trawls, qualitative and quantitative consumer research to get under the skin of consumers’ plant-based taste experience. 

About Kerry
Kerry is the world’s leading taste and nutrition partner for the food, beverage and pharmaceutical markets. We innovate with our customers to create great tasting products, with improved nutrition and functionality, while ensuring better impact for the planet. Our leading consumer insights, global RD&A team of 1,100+ food scientists and extensive global footprint enable us to solve our customers complex challenges with differentiated solutions. At Kerry, we are driven to be our customers’ most valued partner, creating a world of sustainable nutrition, and will reach over 2 billion consumers with sustainable nutrition solutions by 2030.