Accepted abstract - Creative Tastebuds Symposium 2021


Sustainability, health and consumer insights for plant-based food innovation

Opinion paper

By Federico J.A. Perez-Cueto, University of Copenhagen, Department of Food Science, Future Consumer Lab, Frederiksberg, Denmark

Plant-based foods are part of a needed change in the food system. In the past few years, following a growing consumer demand, the first generation of plant-based foods directed to the Western market have been developed mostly mimicking the characteristics of dairy and meat. The next generation of plant-based foods in the Western market may have to address a number of different sustainability, health and consumer challenges.

From an environmental perspective, foods of plant origin have the lowest carbon and water footprint, and they require less land for production. Foods of animal origin comprise inefficient steps in nutrient conversion. From a health perspective, the consensus of more than 30 years of epidemiological research confirms that a healthy diet is predominantly plant-based, as it prevents chronic non-transmissible diseases (cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes and certain types of cancer). However, production of ultra-processed foods, even if they are from plant origin, should still be treated with caution.

Consumers are key players in the food system. In 2020 they require cues of sustainability clearly addressed in food innovation. Consumers are more and more conscious of the detrimental effects of animal farming on the environment as well as the ethical issues resulting from poor animal welfare. Consumers want sustainability, animal welfare and health in their products. Nevertheless, consumers have to deal with facilitators and barriers towards dietary change (such as cooking skills, taste preference, and family support).

Plant-based foods deliver in the fronts of sustainability, animal ethics and human health. However, innovation in plant-based foods needs to take into account minimal processing of foods, appeal to naturalness (use of as little as possible of additives and preservatives), and address the facilitators that would make easier transitioning towards a more plant-based dietary pattern (ethics, animal welfare, taste, health, and empowerment). Innovation in foods directed towards achieving improved plant-based diet may include e.g. the development of plant-based protein-enriched products (and using raw materials such as tempeh, quinoa, amaranth, peas, lentils, almonds and nuts), development of plant-based meals and recipes, and their provision either ready to eat, or as raw materials for preparation at home. Innovation could contribute to “increasing” the diet quality index of the consumers. Interventions should address cooking skills and taste experience and making plant-based choices easier.