KANSAS CITY — Meat and dairy products in recent years have battled plant-based alternatives for consumer dollars. Now, another competitor looms.

“Major disruption is coming to protein ingredients,” said Stephanie Mattucci, associate director, global food science for Mintel. “Clean meat or lab-grown meat is expected to disrupt both the meat industry and the plant-based meat industry.”

Ms. Mattucci spoke Aug. 25 in the Trends and Innovations virtual webinar presented by Food Business News.

The next generation of proteins will need to deliver on taste, texture and price to succeed, she said. Taste and texture still rank as barriers to plant-based meat alternatives while clean meat faces hurdles in price, scale and regulatory approvals, she said.

Lab-grown proteins already are featured in products sold at retail. Brave Robot, an animal-free ice cream brand, incorporates non-animal whey protein isolate from Perfect Day, a startup based in Berkeley, Calif. The product label reads, “a simple, animal-free treat that uses less land, energy and water.”

“It is a clever approach to make: something delicious but with less of an impact on our climate,” Ms. Mattucci said.

Lab-grown proteins could find a home in other categories, like cheese alternatives and sports nutrition products.

“Ice cream is really just the beginning for these non-animal whey proteins,” she said. “Of course, pending regulatory approval, synthetic non-animal dairy proteins offer new solutions in categories where nutritional or technical challenges have really limited vegan innovation.”

The next pea protein

Plant protein, especially pea protein, shows no signs of slowing down in product development. About 1% of total global food and drink launches now contain pea protein, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD). The percentage has more than doubled from five years ago. Pea protein still has room to grow as it trails soybean protein at nearly 3% and wheat protein at a little over 2%.

Ms. Mattucci said protein sourced from chickpeas and fava beans show promise. Daiya Foods, Burnaby, BC, offers dairy-free mozzarella-style shreds that contain chickpeas. In the United Kingdom, Beyond Sausage contains fava beans.

US consumers were asked what sources of protein they preferred in plant-based meat substitutes in a March 2020 report from Lightspeed and Mintel. Forty-five percent said garbanzo beans/chickpeas, which trailed lentils at 46% but led quinoa at 44%. Other percentages were seeds at 41%, soy at 34%, pea at 32% and fava beans at 22%.

“Chickpea offers a clean label and a soy-free alternative in meat substitutes,” Ms. Mattucci said. “It can thrive in the meat alternative category especially if consumers are looking for those more recognizable ingredients. In fact, in the last 10 years the percentage of meat alternatives launched with chickpea has doubled from 2% to 4%.”

Formulators often use chickpeas for functionality rather than as the sole source of protein in products.

“Now this is actually similar to how pea protein first entered the market where it was used for functionality and not necessarily called out as a star ingredient,” Ms. Mattucci said.

Fava beans provide gelling and emulsifying properties, and they may replace eggs in formulations, she said. They show promise in improving the texture of meat substitutes, especially sausage substitutes.

The next Greek yogurt

Ms. Mattucci also spoke about increasing interest in immunity. She pointed out 86% of US consumers said they agree eating healthy is important for a strong immune system, according to a report from Lightspeed and Mintel. Internationally, 42% of functional food consumers in Germany said they use fortified/functional food and drinks to support their immune system, and 70% of Chinese adults said they regularly include immune-boosting food in their diet because of COVID-19.

Immunity concerns are increasing consumer awareness for probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics.

“This will create new opportunities for fermented foods and could actually turn kefir into the next Greek yogurt,” Ms. Mattucci said.

Products on the market include water kefirs, which are vegan-friendly alternatives to dairy kefirs.

“Today, kefir is a rising star in the fermentation scene,” Ms. Mattucci said. “It’s a rich source of probiotics. It’s available in a wide range of textures, everything from a drinkable to a spoon-able.”