Nature’s Treasure Box: Plant-Based Ingredients To Support Today’s Lifestyle Choices

Monday, April 4th, 2022

Flexitarians are driving the plant-based boom. What kind of ingredients should food manufacturers be including in their products to attract this group of consumers?

How many people do you know have some sort of diet restriction? People limit or increase their intake of specific foods for different compelling reasons to fit their lifestyles.

Consumers may require halal, kosher foods, or vegetarian diets in line with their religious and ideological beliefs; or keep to dairy-free or gluten-free diets to manage food intolerances.  

However, most people would likely fall into the category flexitarian category. According to a survey by Euromonitor, 42 percent of global consumers are flexitarians, compared to vegans (four percent) and vegetarians (six percent).

What sets flexitarians apart is their freedom of choice – they can freely switch between animal and non-animal-based products – and they are largely driven by concerns in three areas: 

  • Health: They have certain perceptions about what animal-based products can do to their health. The image of processed red meat and its link to heart issues, cancer or obesity also plays a part. In general, eating less animal-based products and including more greens “makes them feel healthier”.
  • Environment: “The greenhouse gas footprint of animal agriculture rivals that of every car, truck, ship and airplane combined,” The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has called meat production “the world’s most urgent problem”. Saving the environment by looking for sustainable sources of food is a motivation for the flexitarian consumer. 
  • Animal welfare: Consumers are also increasingly aware of their food sources and how their food is produced. Intensive farm production technologies that lead to stress and discomfort for animals have caused consumers to move away from meat consumption. 

The move away from animal-based products has led to an increased consumption of plant-based products such as meat substitutes, which has seen value growth accelerated from five percent in 2017 to 38 percent in 2020 in North America.

More varieties of milk are rising in Asia Pacific as the dairy alternative market is expected to grow at 10.7 percent. However, the plant-based boom is not confined to meat substitutes and dairy alternatives. It also impacts the way flexitarians view the spectrum of products they consume. 

So it’s not a surprise that food companies in Asia are beginning to add plant-based ingredients to their products and rebranding themselves as sustainable and environmentally friendly. For 52 percent of consumers surveyed in the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) Health & Wellness Study (2017), it is important that a food contains a food colour from a plant source at the time of purchase.

The choice for a specific dietary supplement could also be affected. According to Mintel’s study (2021), 45 percent of adults in the USA would like to see more plant-based versions of vitamins, minerals and supplements. 

Two-Pronged Approach To Attract The Attention Of Flexitarians

Claims related to health, environment and animal-free ingredients offer opportunities to address consumers’ main motivation when customising packaging and labelling for each region. For example, while ‘vegetarian’ claims are the most popular on packaged foods in Asia Pacific, ‘vegan’ claims enjoy higher penetration in Western Europe and North America. Other claims such as ‘natural’, and ‘free-from’ are on the rise in North America, while in Asia Pacific and Europe, ‘ethical’ claims such as ‘eco’ and ‘sustainable’ alluding to environmental effects are growing in dietary supplements.

In addition to claims, product transparency is recommended to bolster consumers’ trust in products. A clear outline of the company’s philosophy on sustainability, ingredients used, processing methods and other product qualities will appeal to this group of consumers, on top of label claims alone. 

Ingredients Suitable For Plant-Based Diets

Industry professionals have observed a steady increase in customer interest and demand for plant-based options. Let’s examine some of the common ingredients from plant sources that are dairy/lactose-free and suitable for vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians alike. 

  • Natural beta-carotene (Betatene®)  

Betatene® is derived from a natural micro-algae known as Dunaliella salina, which produces carotenoids to protect itself against stress conditions such as UV light and/or harsh habitat conditions. The algae are grown utilising sunlight, fresh air, seawater and nutrients and BASF harvests a concentrate rich in natural beta-carotene.

This is used in dietary supplements and functional foods & beverages, and one of the benefits of this ingredient is that it can protect against sunburn and UV damage and support healthy skin.

The yellow hue from natural beta-carotene also makes it suitable for incorporating colour into foods such as plant-based chicken nuggets, vegan cheese, and dairy-free yoghurt. 

Dunaliella salina is grown and harvested from more than 800 hectares of open-air seawater lagoons in Western Australia.

Dunaliella salina is grown and harvested from more than 800 hectares of open-air seawater lagoons in Western Australia. Photo Credit: BASF
  • Lutein (Xangold®)

Plant-based lutein can also be naturally sourced from marigold flowers. During the extraction process, a naturally occurring ratio of lutein esters and zeaxanthin esters is maintained.

Lutein and zeaxanthin esters are naturally found in plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables. As a health ingredient in dietary supplements and functional nutrition, lutein is used to support normal vision and eye health but also – in combination with zeaxanthin – it improves brain and cognitive function.

  • Conjugated Linoleic Acid- CLA (Tonalin®) 

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) was originally found in dairy and meat products.  

Today, food and health ingredients suppliers such as BASF offer plant-based CLA – Tonalin, obtained from natural safflower oil through a proprietary process. The oil content found in safflower seeds has the highest concentration of linoleic acid amongst commercially available vegetable oils.

Tonalin CLA is known for its contribution in supporting a normal body composition: Some studies have shown modest fat loss and maintenance of lean muscle mass with CLA supplementation as part of a healthy diet and exercise regimen.

  • Plant sterols (Vegapure®) 

Numerous studies have found plant-based diets, especially when rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts, to be associated with lower risk of cardiovascular risk factors. Specific components like vegetable fats, fibers and phytonutrients such as plant sterols have been linked to this positive effect. Plant sterols are similar to cholesterol; they can compete with cholesterol for absorption in the human gut, lower blood cholesterol levels and hence contribute to heart health.

Vegapure plant sterol esters are composed of sterols and of fatty acids extracted from plant origin. Fatty acids are obtained from sunflower oil containing high amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Plant sterols are present in plant cell membranes. They are extracted from vegetable oils such as soybean, rapeseed oil or pine tree oil.

Plant sterols esters are further refined and deodorised to obtain a fat-like product with soft consistency and pleasant taste in the application. For example, food, beverage and dietary supplements. These convenient options ensure adequate consumption of daily recommended dosages to enable consumers to support their heart health.

Nature offers us a treasure trove of knowledge and benefits.

Nature offers us a treasure trove of knowledge and benefits. 

Nature has plenty of benefits to offer, and with science, knowledge of nutrition and consumer preferences, manufacturers can apply this knowledge to develop a strong value proposition for the growing group of flexitarian consumers. 

This includes companies like BASF, which work closely with their customers to support them with formulation, application, marketing and product development know-how, while leveraging on their deep scientific expertise and technical expertise to provide the right nutrients to the right people at the right time.


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