The rising popularity of meat alternatives is a worldwide phenomenon. From Brazil to Belgium to Birmingham, Alabama, consumers are embracing flexitarian lifestyles and eating more plant-based meat.
But as culinary tastes vary widely around the world, so do preferences for plant-based meat. That makes things tricky for giant companies that are attempting to simultaneously develop alternative proteins that will appeal to a wide range of geographies.
That’s one of the biggest hurdles that Kurt Long, the Director of Flexitarian Solutions for global food and commodities giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) has to deal with. “Every culture has a different taste or texture that they’re targeting,” he told me in a recent phone interview. “Even something basic like a hot dog will have different taste in Latin America than in Asia.”
To cater to these differences, ADM is developing totally different plant-based offerings meant to appeal specifically to each region. For example, in Europe they’re developing fibrous products to emulate plant-based chicken, which is gaining massive popularity in that area of the world. In North America they’re racing to make meatless bacon (hurry up, please). In Latin America they’re focused on burgers; in Asia, it’s pork analogs.
Of course, it’s no surprise that different parts of the globe have different tastes in plant-based meat. But it’s interesting to hear just how much those differences apply to meat alternatives — and how R&D teams will have to tweak the flavor palate and texture to meet local consumer tastes. For example, Asian consumers like more gelatinous textures, which might not translate to, say, Europe.
This challenge — to create products that appeal across the globe — isn’t one reserved only for major food corporations like ADM. Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are also gearing up to launch in China. Depending on consumer reception there they might have to tweak their formulas to appeal to their palates, especially if they want to compete with local plant-based meat companies like Omnipork.
For now, Long noted that ADM is currently filling the most demand in U.S. and Europe. But that could soon change. Rising global incomes in developing countries are spurring a higher demand for protein, specifically meat. At the same time China, the largest meat consumer in the world, is facing massive pork shortages as the African Swine Flu ravages its pig population.
Plant-based meat options can help fill these protein gaps — that is, as long as they can be agile and adapt to regional flavor and texture preferences. Admittedly, a big if.