Golden Age For Plant-Based Lifestyle Drinks

Thursday, April 16th, 2020

Market intelligence points in one direction. Plant-based innovation has a big future in Asia Pacific beverages—and the future has already begun. By DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences.

If your company works within the dairy or beverage category, then there are many good reasons why you should be exploring plant-based beverages right now. You’ve probably already noted the trends—the growing market share of soy and other plant-based drinks, the many new product launches and the consumer perception of these products as a premium, more sustainable, healthy lifestyle choice.

This is just the beginning. Up to 2023, Euromonitor predicts a compound annual growth rate of 8.5 percent in ASEAN, raising the total value of the plant-based beverage market to USD$1.9 billion by the end of the forecast period. Although Thailand is currently by far the biggest ASEAN market, accounting for a massive 62 percent share, consumers from other markets show a high degree of openness towards new plant-based options.

Health Is A Top Driver
DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences investigated the trends in a 2019 survey of consumers in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia. In these three countries, around half of survey respondents cited health as the top reason for buying a plant-based drink, with sensory enjoyment in a strong second place. From a health perspective, consumers recognised the drinks as a good source of protein and an opportunity to improve digestion and skin.

Regional marketing director at DuPont, Michelle Lee notes that consumers were even more enthusiastic when presented with a plant-based beverage concept, positioned as a dairy alternative.

“Consumers from all three countries showed considerable interest in the concept, with the highest scores coming from Thailand and Indonesia. What was especially surprising was that, even in an extremely dairy-loving country like Indonesia, 73 percent said they would be likely to buy it.”

Know Your Market
As Lee further points out, the plant-based markets across ASEAN and the wider Asia Pacific region stand out for their differences, both in terms of consumer preferences and their stage of development. While the general idea of plant-based drinks is not new—many consumers in ASEAN have relied on plant-based drinks such as soymilk for generations—beverage manufacturers must understand what makes each market tick when positioning new products.

In relation to health, specific drivers range between a wish to minimise effects of intolerances to dairy or lactose, and to reduce cholesterol and fat in the diet. The desire to add protein and fibre can be other reasons consumers are attracted to plant-based beverages. According to Mintel, the top positioning claims on plant-based beverages in ASEAN also reflect a trend towards simpler product labels. Meal replacements are another way to go, with some consumers seeking beverages that prolong satiety for better weight management.

“Australia and New Zealand are very much the inspiration for the replacement tendency—whether that’s about replacing milk per se or a dairy component like lactose. In ASEAN, we can see that consumers are positive about free-from claims in general, including sugar-free, fat-free or lactose-free. As Asian consumers are the population in the world with the highest incidence of lactose intolerance*, a lactose-free claim is particularly relevant,” Lee says.

Dairy As Part Of The Mix

As she sees it, however, consumers may not be ready to replace all dairy beverages with plant based. Right now, the biggest potential may even lie in beverage innovation that combines the best of both worlds. This is primarily due to the flavour benefits. But there is a strong nutritional motivation for doing so, too.

“When we tested a ready-to-drink duo protein concept made with dairy and plant-based protein, consumers loved it. Each protein component balances out the less favourable flavour notes of the others. We built the concept around what we call the golden ratio of dairy and soy protein, which has been clinically tested.”

The golden ratio is as follows: 25 percent soy protein, 25 percent whey protein and 50 percent casein protein. In collaboration with the University of Texas Medical Branch, DuPont collaborated on clinical studies of this protein combination in relation to muscle synthesis. Compared to whey protein alone, the soy-dairy blend prolongs muscle protein synthesis after exercise in young adults. A study of older adults, aged 55 to 75, produced similarly interesting results. Here, consumption of the blend after exercise appeared to support of muscle recovery.

For beverage manufacturers, this clinical evidence represents an opportunity to position beverages based on soy and dairy blends towards specific consumer segments—younger people in search of effective sports nutrition and active seniors in need of nutritional solutions to support healthy ageing.

Not Just About Soy
While soy protein is still the rising star among plant-based proteins, other plant proteins are gathering momentum. Nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, walnuts and macadamias, are drawing increasing attention, along with coconut and cereals, which include rice, oats and barley. Moving forward, another up-and-coming plant protein source is pea.

Lee explains: “Manufacturers must choose the right plant-based source, by weighting the desired nutritional profile, flavour and texture, they are looking for. In our own study, we found our pea protein product can be the way to obtain a superior flavour in combination with soy protein isolate, which can deliver a high protein content while maintaining a light and smooth viscosity.”

The considerable work done with a range of protein sources already gives plant-based beverage manufacturers a wide range of possibilities to capture their share of the growing Asia Pacific market. Alongside that, ingredient suppliers have developed stabiliser technology to give ready-to-drink products the desired mouthfeel. For the next generation of new product launches, DuPont predicts a move into more textured products with chewable plant inclusions.

All things considered, the supply of innovative opportunities to the category is far from exhausted.  For manufacturers still weighing up their plant-based beverage options, it’s time to join the ride.


*References available upon request.



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