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Inside Retail & Kerry

Better than beef: Inside the evolution of plant-based burgers

(Source: Supplied.)

It’s no secret the humble beef burger has undergone a major plant-based transformation in recent years, as consumers have become more health-conscious and aware of the environmental impact of the meat industry. Meanwhile, traditional fast-food chains like Grill’d, Mad Mex and McDonald’s all now offer vegan options on their menus.

According to a global report on plant-based meat from Kerry, 55 per cent of Australians started eating plant-based products because they’re considered healthier, 46 per cent due to curiosity and 41 per cent as it’s better for the planet.

“Plant-based burgers are rapidly moving into the mainstream,” says Catarina Rodrigues, marketing manager at Kerry Australia and New Zealand. “Today, plant-based burgers are more widely available than ever on Australian and New Zealand retail shelves and restaurant menus. The industry has responded to the flexitarian consumer with innovation and new offerings. However, our research has demonstrated that there is further opportunity to deliver a truly satisfying plant-burger experience.”

Kerry recently published a report on the growing plant-based burger industry. Here are some of the most interesting insights that the team discovered.

The burgers are better… but there’s still a way to go

According to the report, consumers are looking for authentic cooking flavours in their plant-based burgers. Think delicious smoky chargrilled and caramelised notes.

Meanwhile, for many flexitarians, their sensory benchmark is a fresh burger enjoyed at a BBQ, so it’s crucial that manufacturers create a product that tastes as good as real meat, if not better. The reality is they have even higher taste expectations for plant-based burgers than the real thing.

“Flexitarians are now the primary consumer segment driving the growth of plant-based food, including plant-based burgers. These consumers want plant-based products to offer a meaty taste experience,” Rodrigues says. “Thus, it is important to deliver on the basics of masking off-notes in products made from soy, pea or other vegetable proteins.” 

Education is needed

Unfortunately, the report revealed that many Australians are still trying to work out how to best cook plant-based meat and have sadly overcooked their burgers, leading to a poor experience. Eighty-five per cent are expecting a burger that caramelises and browns during the cooking process with a great texture. They’re looking for the same visual cues when cooking real meat.

“The cooking process is the unsung hero. Australian consumers are not yet confident cooking with plant-based burgers, which often leave them feeling unsure and overcooking the burger,” said Jie Ying Lee, senior strategic marketing manager, at Kerry Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa. 

“Consumers are looking for certain ‘beef burger’ cooking cues which signal that a burger is perfectly cooked, safe to eat and delicious. Therefore ease of cooking is very important for Australian consumers. This also indicates that more opportunities will be present in ready prepared plant-based products.”

The secret sauce is in the flavour

Lee also observed that one of the other problems many burger products face is a lack of flavour, or umami – the meaty, savoury deliciousness that deepens flavour.

“This is often lacking in most plant-based meat products. In-market products are either too bland or too salty. Plant-based burgers with depth of flavour did very well in our consumer focus group and it’s one of the key sensory attributes that consumers liked and that set the plant-based burger apart from the rest,” she says.

According to the report, the ideal plant-based burger has a complex flavour with multiple notes detected within the mouth at the same time, from meaty and slightly smoky to subtle saltiness and subtle herb notes.

“Not surprisingly, bitter plant-based notes are rejected by all consumers. Many products overcompensate with added salt or sodium or overdosing of flavour resulting in a taste that lingers too long and can be perceived as artificial or unpleasant,” stated the report. “Out of all the markets we researched, Australian consumers are the most sensitive and least accepting of plant-based and artificial notes.”

To find out more about the report, visit the Kerry website.