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Plant-based products present long-term sustainable commercial opportunities

Shen Siung Wong, Director of Global Applications at Tate & Lyle, enlightens us on the development of the plant-based sector. This article was featured in Tate & Lyle’s digital report Protecting Planet and People through Ingredient Innovation published in Sustainability Magazine.


Age-old plant-based diets are being reimagined as the focus of the environmental impact of the food we eat has increased, with the consumer plant-based trend becoming a major component of the climate conversation.

Brands are attuned to the needs and preferences of their consumers, and they want exceptional plant-based products on the shelf to support their evolving lifestyles. However, fundamentally, consumers are looking to have their basic needs met from a food quality perspective, such as the taste, ‘mouthfeel’, and nutritional value of a product.

The challenge that brands take on to meet these demands is also in part driven by global shortages of animal-derived commodities exacerbated by events like COVID-19 and the supply chain disruptions that followed, as well as the need for affordability in inflationary economies.

So, companies are looking to innovate while meeting the needs of consumers and managing costs, which is where Tate & Lyle supports customers in their efforts. Through its research and development, it helps businesses navigate the plant-based trend, while becoming more resilient to global supply chain shifts.

“With spiralling inflation hitting many economies worldwide, cost optimisation projects with customers are increasing as brands try to minimise price increases for consumers. There are also availability challenges, such as the low supply of eggs caused by avian flu in countries ranging from the US and UK to France and Japan. Often a plant-based ingredient solution can meet consumers’ expectations at a lower cost while still delivering an extraordinary end-product,” says Shen Siung Wong, Director of Global Applications at Tate & Lyle.

“For the plant-based sector, the focus now needs to be on brand differentiation, perfecting those sensory attributes, and enhancing nutrition to encourage more regular consumption. We at Tate & Lyle are well-placed to support these endeavours, both technically and by providing more sustainably produced ingredients such as our CLARIA® Clean Label Functional Starches, which we will soon produce with a third less carbon and water than our original product line.”

Working with food and beverage brands, Tate & Lyle can make plant-based a reality, from a baked camembert alternative using its corn-based texturants made in its Customer Innovation and Collaboration Centre in Germany to vegan muffins using chickpea flour in its US lab. Chickpea flour, for instance, is gluten-free and recognisable to consumers while offering many functional benefits when used as an egg replacement such as providing similar muffin volume and peak height. Through extensive research and trials, animal-based proteins, fats and ingredients such as eggs and gelatines can be replaced with Tate & Lyle’s plant-based ingredient solutions while providing the same aesthetics and mouthfeel of traditional products.

“Dairy is a hugely active category in the plant-based space. Cow’s milk provides the perfect composition to make yoghurt, cream, and other indulgent dairy products, and so with plant-based alternatives, we need to balance the key components—water, vegetable fats, and proteins — to replicate the texture, taste and eating experience that people love,” says Wong.

In this instance, Tate & Lyle is helping brands produce dairy alternatives, incorporating ingredients that replicate functionalities that would otherwise be addressed during the various production processes.

“The luxurious, smooth viscosity of a yoghurt, for instance, is induced by the pH dropping when the live and active cultures in milk proteins convert pasteurised milk to yoghurt during fermentation,” says Wong.

“In a plant-based alternative, we need to reproduce that texture, which we can do through our portfolio of corn and tapioca starches, including clean label options, often as part of a broader solution using stabilisers and a combination of plant-based proteins to provide equivalent nutrition.”

One of the main challenges in this process is meeting growing expectations around ‘clean-label’, the preference for recognisable ingredients and short ingredient lists. Currently, Tate & Lyle’s global team of food scientists see brands prioritising taste and texture, which go hand in hand, to secure the repeat purchase, but increasingly they are helping to develop these products with appealing nutrition and clean-label credentials. “Ticking all of these boxes won’t happen overnight, but the pace of innovation in this sector is phenomenal,” says Wong.

For the most sustainability-minded food and drink brands Tate & Lyle works with, plant-based is a reality, not a trend.

“As it continues to expand and eventually shifts from niche to mainstream, with the corresponding economies of scale benefits, R&D professionals will know they are not only making tastier, healthier, and more sustainable products, but they are helping to drive the radical transformation the industry needs to be fit for the future.”

Find out more about the plant-based trend hereBack to our Sustainability Report page

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