Kerry Group’s study highlights critical consumer trends in plant-based foods


Kerry Group is described as the world’s leading taste and nutrition partner for the food and beverage markets. The company innovates with its customers to create great tasting products – with improved nutrition and functionality while being better for the planet. The company provides industry-leading consumer insights and has a global RD&A team in excess of 1,100 food scientists.

Recently, Kerry released its ‘Stepping Up Taste in Plant-Based’ report. HotSource spoke with Jie Ying Lee (senior strategic marketing manager for plant-based, Kerry Asia Pacific, middle east, Africa) and Catarina Rodrigues (marketing manager, Kerry Australia and New Zealand) about the latest trends in plant-based burgers…

Click here for Kerry’s ‘Stepping Up Taste in Plant-Based’ report on Australian consumers’ expectations of plant-based burgers.

Q. Based on Kerry’s recent insights study into plant-based burgers, where does the market currently sit in terms of consumer demand for plant-based foods?

Australia has the third fastest-growing market in the world for plant-based foods, and the local plant-based market is expected to reach A$3B by 2030.

Among Australian consumers, 55% intending to eat more plant-based foods. Over in New Zealand, more than a third of consumers say they are eating less meat or none at all. People associate eating less meat and a wholesome, balanced diet with a longer, healthier life. In fact, 72% of Australian consumers believe a flexible diet that includes meat alternatives gives them more options to meet their health goals.

But while taste is the number one reason people choose plant-based foods, 43% of Australian consumers say current offerings lack the taste and texture of meat, although 50% agree that food labelled as ‘plant-based’ can be described as delicious.

All this shows that the plant-based market is dynamic and continues to evolve, with the region presenting an incredible opportunity for innovative, great tasting plant-based foods.

Q. What does the end-consumer ‘look like’ and why is there a move to eating more plant-based foods? What are their primary motivators when it comes to plant-based foods, such as burgers?

To truly understand the consumer, Kerry recently embarked on a six-month journey of exploration with consumers in four key plant-based markets around the world: USA, UK, Australia and Brazil. Our global research teams combined different analytical and insight techniques to get under the skin of consumers’ plant-based taste experience. We conducted digital ethnography and sensory immersions, stepping virtually into consumer kitchens around the world and observed consumers preparing and eating plant-based burgers. Through this, we were able to understand what truly delights consumers, their existing pain points and most importantly, their unmet expectations.

We tested 16 plant-based burgers from 14 different global and regional brands. Regarding the testers, they were around 25 – 40 years of age with an even split of gender. All had to be occasional consumers of plant-based burgers and who enjoy meat alternatives. The test was done on naked patties as it was important for the patty to hold its own for the purposes of the study, though consumers did comment that they often use condiments and sauces to elevate the plant-based burger experience.

What our insights found: Consumers want a plant-based product that tastes as close as possible to a real beef burger. A strong local influence on what they look for in beef also has an impact on their expectations of a plant-based burger.

For example in the USA and Brazil, the benchmark is fresh or frozen burgers cooked at home or burgers made from scratch and seasoning to their liking. Their ideal plant-based burger is meaty and savoury.

Q. Food manufacturers are always looking for the next big thing. What does Kerry’s research reveal?

In our study, flexitarians (the key consumer group that enjoys both meat and meat alternatives that’s driving the plant-based growth) in Australia told us that beef is their benchmark when it comes to the optimum plant-based ‘beef’ burger taste experience, and the beef burger benchmark is a fresh burger grilled on BBQ. This means there is more emphasis on chargrilled and savoury versus meaty.

Q. How can food manufacturers learn and create opportunities from this?

Consumers in Australia are looking for plant-based burgers that can replicate the charred, caramelised notes and savoury taste of a real beef burger, with 70% saying they are likely to buy a plant-based burger with ‘authentic chargrilled burger’ descriptions. Products with these descriptions are also perceived to be better with 76% of Australians saying they believe it to be delicious.

The importance of the first bite was a call out during the studies. Our research highlights that flavour alone is not enough to satisfy Australian consumers. When texture meets consumer expectations, the overall experience is elevated by the right flavour profiles. One of the most important characteristics to achieve for the optimum burger is a variation in bite; a burger that has a firm outer (a result of charring) and a soft inner.  If delivered correctly, variation in bite can create a sensation for consumers that’s very close to the desired meat-like experience.

With beef burgers as their benchmark, it’s no surprise that products that can deliver on depth and complexity of flavour with a good balance between savoury and meaty do well in Australia. Consumers are looking for multiple notes in each bite, from meaty, slightly smoky, with subtle saltiness to-slight pepper and subtle herb notes, and cooked fat.

While Australians like complexity, they also prefer the flavours to be natural with no synthetic or artificial notes. They find the bitterness, ‘cardboardness’ and beaniness usually present in plant-based products unappealing and also consider the chemical notes created from excessive masking a turn off.

Too much flavour can also put Australian consumers off as many products in the market overcompensate with added salt or sodium, resulting in a taste that lingers for too long

In terms of appearance of the plant-based patty, consumers say they don’t want to see visible fat globules and pink juices that mimic blood/bleeding typical in meat. Products that attempt to replicate the meat experience in this way are regarded by consumers as going too far.

Q. Beyond taste, what other factors are important to the end-consumer?

We found that the cooking process has a significant impact on overall satisfaction for consumers. Most are looking for beef-like cooking cues to help them control the cooking process and signal when their burger is perfectly cooked and safe to eat. On an emotional level, cooking cues increase excitement and anticipation of “what’s to come?”. For example, people expect to hear sizzling as soon as they place the patty on the hot pan, just like with a beef burger. Not only does a sizzle create the all-important drama in the pan, it also creates positive expectations that the burger will be tasty and succulent.

While consumers want a plant-based burger with all the great taste of a beef burger, they also do expect it to be healthier and better for the environment, key reasons why they opt for plant-based as they believe meat alternatives to be healthier and environmentally sustainable. They want assurance that their choice to eat plant-based is justified.

Q. How is Kerry partnering with plant-based meat manufacturers to develop new products in plant-based products?

Armed with these new consumer insights, we can help our customers unlock growth in the dynamic plant-based space to produce delicious, innovative plant-based foods consumers will love.

Kerry’s rich experience in plant-based products through our expertise in Consumer food (Kerry Foods) is the foundation of our portfolio of plant-based solutions. Taste is the main reason consumers choose one product over another. Delivering good taste has traditionally been a challenge in the plant-based meat category, and one we’ve worked on for more than 20 years to help solve. Our global network of flavourists and chefs can support customers build the desired flavour profile in plant protein products, from a traditional meat-eating taste experience to a vegetable-inspired profile.

Kerry’s Radicle plant-based food solutions are designed to work together to address common meat alternative challenges and deliver winning plant-based protein products.

Our holistic approach tackles plant protein challenges from field to fork. From plant-based burgers to sausages and nuggets, Radicle™ by Kerry solutions create plant-based meat alternative products with the taste, texture, functionality, and nutrition consumers want.

Brands also leverage our portfolio of ingredients and integrated systems including coatings, seasonings, rubs, marinades and glazes, smoke and grill, and food protection, fermentation and taste ingredients designed for use with both meat and plant-based proteins.