What Are the Top Vegan Flavors for 2021 with Zero Animal Protein?

The plant-based food category is the fastest-growing segment in the industry today. Newly published data from SPINS, commissioned by the Good Food Institute and the Plant-Based Foods Association, reports plant-based sales reached $7 billion, growing 27 percent in 2020 – almost two times faster than total U.S. retail food sales.
Nearly half of all consumers say they are choosing plant-based alternatives more now than they did a year ago. The market explosion has been explained by experts as an outcome of the coronavirus pandemic, evidenced by more consumers putting greater emphasis on their health and wellness, as well as the environment and sustainability.

2021’s Top Vegan Flavors

In 2020, more than 290 million units of plant-based meat were sold, a unit increase of 36 percent. Plant-based meat sales now account for 2.7 percent of all dollar sales for retail packaged meat and about 1.4 percent of all dollar sales for total retail meat. The category rose from $962 million in 2019 to $1.4 billion in 2020, according to SPINS data.

Plant-Based Meat Flavors

Plant-based burgers remain the largest plant-based meat product format by dollar sales as they are most often consumers’ first experience with the world of plant-based protein. Consumers often start with a plant-based burger to feed their curiosity and sense of adventure, in addition to wanting the health and environmental benefits that come along with it.

SPINS data reports that plant-based grounds were the breakout product format, more than doubling in size last year thanks to increased distribution in retail. Product formats like deli slices and bacon remain relatively small subcategories, which indicates room for development and growth.

The growth of plant-based meat is supported primarily by adults who continue to eat real meat. While most adults believe that meat is the best source of protein, Mintel reports in Plant-Based Proteins (May 2020) that many also believe plant-based foods can provide enough protein on their own. The brands that offer a “meaty” plant-based alternative with zero animal protein are finding success with the average consumer and stand poised to earn greater market share, according to the report.

If plant-based protein tastes like the real thing, the more willing consumers are to continue buying it. In the plant-based foods category, flavor is used to deliver a specific desirable taste profile, disguise unpleasant notes such as bitterness or soy, and make finished products more palatable.

When working with a plant-based substrate, the characterizing protein flavor has to come from flavoring. For example, if you want a plant-based food product to taste like chicken, the entire “chicken” experience can only come through the flavoring. In other words, you’ll never get a soybean to taste like chicken without flavoring.

We predict the top plant-based meat flavors of 2021 include beef, steak, pork, chicken, and bacon. Culinary characteristics like smoky, grilled, charbroiled, marbled, and roasted bring an added layer of flavor complexity to make products stand out in the market.

New global product introductions in retail include:

• Naked Foods Sweet Pork Bites are plant-based and have been marinated and cooked with a mixture of spices. The product was introduced in the Philippines in April 2021.

• Asda Plant-Based Meat-Free Bacon Style Rashers are thin slices of vegan bacon with sunflower oil and wheat protein. The product debuted in the UK in April 2021.

• The Alternative Meat Co.’s Plant-Based Crumbled Chicken Burger and Plant-Based Beef Burger both debuted in Australia in March 2021.

• Vivera Smokey BBQ Plant Chicken Tenders debuted in the Netherlands in March 2021.

• Urban Accents Smokin’ Chipotle Flavor Plant Based Street Taco Ground Veggie Meatless Mix debuted in the U.S. in February 2021 to create flavorful vegetarian tacos.

On QSR menus, charbroiled plant-based burgers are the most prevalent format as they are often the “gateway” protein for consumers to explore plant-based foods. Between June 2020 and January 2021, Datassential reported three new “spicy, BBQ” plant-based burgers, pairing adventure with familiar features like heat and a classic sauce. In June, Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s debuted a spicy barbecue burger featuring a Beyond Burger patty.

In January, Carl’s Jr added a Beyond Fiery Famous Star that features a Beyond Burger patty, new Fiery Sauce, Pepper Jack cheese and jalapenos. Nathan’s Famous debuted its plant-based option in February 2021, featuring an Impossible Burger patty, Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce, American cheese, onion rings, crispy pickle chips, lettuce, and tomato.

Plant-Based Seafood Flavors

While innovation in plant-based meat has significantly increased over the past year, plant-based seafood is more of a market white space. According to the Good Food Institute’s Plant-Based Market (2020 Release), seafood accounts for just $9.5 million or 1 percent of the $7 billion in total plant-based meat and seafood dollars.

Nearly half of all consumers are eating more plant-based food than they did a year ago, and now they are looking for greater variety. Consumer awareness about issues surrounding the fishing industry, thanks in part to Netflix’s Seaspiracy documentary, is resulting in people’s desire to eat less fish and look at alternatives.

Development in the plant-based seafood space is in its infancy. While innovation is sure to continue in this category, we predict the top seafood flavors for 2021 are tuna, crab, and salmon.

New global product introductions in retail include:

• Good Catch’s Plant-Based Crabless Cakes debuted in the U.S. in December 2020.

• Loma Lima Tuno debuted in Australia in June 2020.

• Sophie’s Kitchen Vegan Smoked Salmon debuted in Australia in October 2019.

• Amazonika Mundi’s Vegan Crab Dumplings debuted in Brazil in January 2021.

• Good Catch Deli-Style Tuna launched at Whole Foods in the U.S. in February 2021.

Achieving Delicious Flavor for Plant-Based Protein

Plant-based proteins are graded on one thing by consumers, and that’s the flavor. The reality is that getting a delicious flavor from plant-based protein isn’t easy. But partnering with a trusted flavor company can elevate your plant-based product into a mouth-watering flavor experience.

At Synergy Aromas, we have been working in the plant-based category since 2003. We are meat and savory specialists, delivering authentic vegan flavors and have an experienced technical team who can develop customized solutions for your unique substrate and processing parameters.

Contact us today to schedule a virtual tasting demonstration to learn how we can help deliver delicious flavor for your plant-based protein.