A Flavor Chemist’s Perspective – Plant-Based Challenges and Opportunities

Trilogy Flavors identified Flexitarianism as a main driver for consumers’ interest in plant-based food and beverage as part of a six plant-based blog post series. The four categories Trilogy examined are Dairy and Plant-Based Milk & Yogurt, Dairy and Plant-Based Cheese, Multicultural Flavors for Animal-Derived Protein and Plant-Based Protein, and Salty and Sweet Plant-Based Snacks. The last post of this series is a Flavor Chemist’s perspective on plant-based challenges and opportunities.

Consumer Perceptions

As previously discussed, plant-based innovation has come a long way from early plant-based products that lacked the sophistication, taste, texture, mouthfeel, aroma, and characteristics of their animal-based counterparts. However, consumers still expect these attributes, and their perceptions continue to challenge formulators and flavorists.

According to Innova Market Insights’ researcha, when respondents were asked, “Why would you not consider buying plant-based alternatives?” consumers revealed that they consider taste and texture the first issue, followed by price/value for money and concerns on products being too processed and having too many artificial ingredients. Furthermore, “for every consumer who believes [plant-based] alternatives taste better, there are slightly more who think that they taste worse.”

R&D’s focus has been on overcoming the technical challenges of plant-based proteins and how closely the applications replicate the real product. Technological advances are pushing the envelope as taste and texture have been the biggest factors driving development.

General Plant-Based Food & Beverage Challenges

Plant-based proteins come from a variety of botanical plant sources such as seeds, nuts, legumes, and grains and vary depending on the application. Differing plant sources contribute oil, fat, or juice. Regardless of the protein source, plant-based proteins have intrinsic, off-notes, often described as bitter. The better quality of the base protein, the fewer off-notes there are. For example, Soy is more neutral and has a nutty top note while Pea is more off-putting, drier, and often described as “cardboardy.”

Off-notes are one of the biggest challenges Flavor Chemists face when creating a consumer-accepted taste. Negative perceptions of the taste are a barrier for many consumers. Texture is the next issue. Consumers expect plant-based alternatives to mimic the texture and mouthfeel of their animal-based counterparts. When formulating these applications, solubility can be a concern. For alternative dairy products and alternative meat, consumers look for a fatty mouthfeel. Another hurdle is the cost. Creating tasty, flavorful plant-based products that have the texture and mouthfeel of animal-based products at affordable prices is a tall order to fill. Trilogy Flavors’ R&D team and Flavor Chemists are hard at work collaborating with clients to meet consumer expectations.

Looking for a flavor for your plant-based applications? Peruse Trilogy’s vegan flavors for plant-based dairy and meat alternatives here and request samples here. Reach out here to partner on a new project.

Formulating Flavors For Plant-Based Applications

The most surprising aspect of formulating plant-based products is the variety of plant-based proteins and matching the flavor of the product to the flavor of the base. For this reason, the first step for Flavor Chemists is to determine the protein base. The second step for Flavor Chemists is to match the flavors of the plant-based product to the desired flavor profile. Depending on the characteristics of the off-note, matching the flavor can reduce the prominence of the off-note. For example, tropical flavors mask off-notes such as sulfur. Generally, sweeter flavors support masking off-notes, as usage levels can be increased without overwhelming the taste. In addition, sweet flavors counteract bitterness in the base product. Chocolate and passionfruit flavors are easier to disguise in a base versus Vanilla, which is a sensitive flavor because it can enhance off-notes. Soy has a nutty top note and using a nut flavor in the final product can enhance the taste.

Check out Trilogy’s top plant-based milk flavors here, non-dairy cheese flavors here, and alternative meat flavors here. Contact us here to find out how Trilogy Flavors can help you with your flavor development.

Plant-Based Texture and Mouthfeel Observations

A challenge as a Flavor Chemist is that flavor cannot alter or impact the texture or mouthfeel of a plant-based product. In the non-dairy space, flavoring dairy alternatives such as milk and yogurt are easier than cheese. Due to texture, creating a plant-based milk or soft cheese that shares characteristics with dairy-based products is easier than creating a plant-based hard cheese or sliced cheese. This can be particularly challenging if the cheese is meant to melt. Consumers’ interest in vegan cheese continues to drive innovation. The dairy alternative cream cheese market has witnessed a 25.5% increase in sales for the 52-week period ending December 4, 2022, according to IRI Integrated Freshb. For plant-based meat alternatives, soy, pea, lentils, chickpeas, brown rice, and Mung bean are popular plant-based proteins. Choosing a plant-based protein source with a similar texture to the real meat that is being replicated is helpful. Textures such as crumbles and ground meats are more conducive to plant-based flavoring. Brown rice protein is a good alternative suited for plant-based chicken and beef and Mung bean protein is milder. Often plant-based meat uses vegetable oil to mimic the fatty mouthfeel of animal products. However, vegetable oil is more refined and does not solidify like animal fat. Plant-based lunch meats frequently use lentils and beans for the base. Creating plant-based lunch meat flavors like bologna is easier since the texture of lunch meat is already an emulsion. Plant-based deli meat is a growing category. According to IRI Integrated Freshc, sales of plant-based deli meat were up 7.1% for the 52-week period ending December 11, 2022. Although Trilogy does not specialize in functional capabilities to adjust texture, our R&D team can provide recommendations.

Trilogy Flavor Chemists understand the challenges associated with flavoring plant-based products and have expertise in working across many product formats. Contact us today for more information on flavoring your plant-based products.

Plant-Based Production Challenges

There are many factors to be considered for flavoring plant-based food and beverage. Flavor Chemists need to know the end use and cooking method to formulate flavors for plant-based products. For example, is the product frozen or shelf stable? Plant-based products that do not have to be cooked are easier to formulate than those that do. If heated, plant-based flavors need to be heat stable and use ingredients with higher flash points. Ingredients such as canola oil and fractionated coconut oil are better suited for high heat. One of the biggest production hurdles is concentration and increasing usage. Often companies have usage levels set, and Flavor Chemists need to create a balance in concentration. The more information Flavor Chemists have, the better equipped they are to make flavorful products sure to please consumers.

From dairy to meat, plant-based alternatives are here to stay. Let Trilogy Flavors support your new food and beverage product development with our diverse portfolio of vegan flavors designed specifically for plant-based products. Request samples here.

Cost Considerations

There is a dizzying number of alternative protein product launches across industries. Plant-based products are now accessible and available at mainstream grocery stores, restaurants, and fast-food chains. The dynamic plant-based foods market could make up to 7.7% of the global protein market by 2030, with a value of over $162 billion, up from $29.4 billion in 2020, according to a Bloomberg Intelligence reportd. However, with inflation and the current state of the economy, consumers are cutting back on their spending. Plant-based products tend to carry a higher price tag than their traditional counterparts. Price is a factor, and with inflation, consumers are less willing to spend extra on premium-priced products like plant-based food and beverage. For example, The Food Institute’s LinkedIn polle of 208 respondents revealed that their biggest current concern regarding the plant-based category was the higher price tag for plant-based products expressed by 45% of poll respondents. This consumer sentiment was echoed in research conducted by PBFI, Kroger, and 84.51°f. The data found that when asked, “What would make you more likely to consume plant-based products?” 64% of 150 respondents who were categorized as “Plant-Based Decreasers” said lower pricing and/or more frequent sales and coupons. When the economy settles and improves, it is expected that consumers will have more money to spend. In the future, Trilogy anticipates that plant-based products will become more affordable with price parity to animal-based products.

Opportunities To Collaborate

Communication is the key to success. Plant-based products are multifaceted with many components such as taste, texture, mouthfeel, aroma, and cost. Our dedicated Flavor Chemists and R&D team are up for the challenge and are here to support the development of your plant-based product. Knowing your protein base and end use is the first step in collaborating. After careful examination of your needs including a sample of your plant-based protein base and desired flavor profile, we recommend creative solutions. Trilogy’s R&D teams will determine what flavors will aid in masking unpleasant off-notes to design a well executed flavor to appeal to consumers’ expectations. According to Innova Market Insightsa, consumers believe [plant-based] product development should be driven by health (41%), followed by affordability (30%) and naturalness (28%). Furthermore, consumers are expectant of new technologies enhancing taste, nutritional value, digestibility, lowering environmental impact, and products mimicking the texture of regular meat [and other animal products].

Trilogy understands the evolving plant-based consumer and our sustainable food practices extend from our raw materials to our manufacturing facility. Consumers don’t want to sacrifice taste or flavor when choosing plant-based products. From dairy-free plant-based beverages to plant-based cheese to plant-based meat, Trilogy offers a diverse portfolio of vegan flavor solutions for your formulas. We understand many of the plant-based challenges flavorists and formulators face. Contact us today to collaborate.


a https://www.foodingredientsfirst.com/news/veganuary-takes-hold-companies-and-consumers-alike-expected-to-embrace-plant-based-eating-in-2023.html

b https://foodinstitute.com/focus/major-cpg-players-fueling-alt-cream-cheese-innovation/

c https://foodinstitute.com/focus/outlook-sizzling-for-plant-based-deli-meats/

d https://www.bloomberg.com/company/press/plant-based-foods-market-to-hit-162-billion-in-next-decade-projects-bloomberg-intelligence/

e https://foodinstitute.com/focus/poll-notes-top-concerns-regarding-plant-based-foods/

f https://www.plantbasedfoods.org/pbfi-kroger-plant-based-migration-analysis-report/

Trilogy Flavors, Inc.