The plant-based revolution is now in full swing – not least in the cheese category. The plant-based cheese segment is now growing by around 9% each year (1) – with an astonishing 388 plant-based cheeses launched in 2021 alone (2).
To some extent, we don’t need market data and statistics to tell us this. The evidence is right there on today’s supermarket shelves (which look very different compared to say, five years ago). But how many of the many new product launches we’re now seeing are likely to be successful in the long run? Or to put it another way, what can brands do to capitalize on this momentum and ensure that their plant-based cheese is the one preferred and purchased by discerning consumers? This is question that we’ve been asking ourselves at DSM for some time now. The answer is not too surprising.
Consumers want products that more accurately mimic their traditional dairy choices and experiences. After all, there’s a reason why dairy cheese is so enduringly popular. It looks, smells and tastes delicious – and even includes health benefits like calcium and vitamins The next question – and traditionally far harder for the industry to answer – is how to achieve this. How can plant-based cheese manufacturers change their formulations in a way that meets both their needs and those of consumers? Now, we have the answer – in the form of the new DSM plant-based cheese portfolio.
Building on tradition
Our portfolio for this fast-growing segment doesn’t just combine ingredients, solutions and expertise. It also draws on a 100-plus year dairy heritage to bring the experience of traditional dairy cheese to plant-based cheese – in taste, texture, nutrition and appearance: starting with taste. How do we replicate the wonder-fully complex, distinctive flavors of traditional cheese in a plant-based equivalent?
Passing the taste test
Our experts understand the complex flavor palette of traditional cheese – and how this provides specific, signature taste. Now, they are using all this knowledge to do the same thing for plant-based cheese. Specifically, we build taste complexity through a series of four steps – starting with masking agents that nullify off-notes from raw materials that can overpower traditional cheese flavors. Next, we add yeast extracts to build the basic savory foundation, followed by process flavors to impart typical lactic tones for a unique dairy taste profile. Finally, we use specific plant-based cheese top notes to round-out the robust, complex and dairylike flavor that the customer desires.
Of course, plant-based cheese needs to feel like real cheese: whether its chewy and soft like mozzarella and young gouda, or hard and brittle like parmesan. Furthermore, it needs to perform like real cheese when manufactured and used by the consumer. How easy is it to slice, melt and shred?
This is another area where our portfolio comes into play for plant-based manufacturers, where our experts use ingredients like gellan gums, hydrocolloids and pectins to help create an authentic texture and mouthfeel. Take gellan gum, for example. Its functional properties are ideal for improving plant-based cheese texture thanks to a patented technology that combines with the application’s starches and proteins – improving not only texture and bite but also the slicing and shredding qualities.
In living color
We’ve talked about boosting the taste and texture of plant-based cheese. But it’s also important that the product looks like traditional cheese. Our answer is a family of beta-carotene solutions that bring authentic color to plant-based cheeses – from yellow to orange. These solutions are nature-identical and mimic the color of traditional dairy cheese. This means that not only do they differentiate products on the supermarket shelf; they appeal to health-conscious (and label-reading!) consumers.
Bridging the nutrient gap
Finally, it shouldn’t be overlooked that traditional dairy cheese delivers nutritional value – in the form of vitamins and calcium, for example. This is an area where plantbased cheese has struggled to keep pace, with these products often low in vitamins and minerals in comparison. Here, our nutritional premix blends of vitamins and minerals can help bridge this nutrition gap. In fact, as part of our new portfolio, manufacturers can now add a host of ingredients to their plant-based cheese – including micronutrients like vitamins A, B2 and B12; as well as calcium, iodine, selenium and zinc – all of which are prevalent in traditional dairy products.
Meeting consumer expectations
Ultimately, the market for dairy cheese alternatives is booming. More consumers than ever are willing to experiment with new types of plant-based cheese. But if their chosen product doesn’t deliver the type of experience they were expecting (or perhaps are even used to, with traditional cheese), they will almost certainly be seeking another ‘alternative’. With our portfolio for plant-based cheese, manufacturers can now meet these needs on all fronts – in terms of taste, texture, color and nutrition. There’s no need to choose. Enjoy it all.
(1) Euromonitor 2022, (2) Mintel 2022 More information available – click here