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HealthFerm releases comprehensive survey on European consumer attitudes towards plant-based fermented foods

July 8, 2024

HealthFerm has published the preliminary findings from its survey of European consumer preferences and attitudes towards plant-based fermented foods. Conducted by researchers at Umeå University, the survey provides insights into the behavior and perceptions of more than 7,800 consumers across nine European countries, offering new data to support evidence-based policies and business strategies toward European health and sustainability targets.

While omnivores comprised 75% of respondents, 16.1% identified as ‘flexitarian’, indicating a trend toward reducing consumption of meat. Dairy was the most frequently consumed food group, with 46.2% of respondents consuming dairy products at least once daily. Plant-based milk and fermented plant-based yogurt showed promise with notably high frequencies of consumption within the plant-based and fermented plant-based food categories.

“This consumer study has shed light on the progression towards a societal tipping point," commented Professor Armando Perez-Cueto, Head of the Sustainable Food Transitions Research Group at Umeå University. "With about 27% of omnivores eating like flexitarians, without identifying themselves as flexitarians, this is a step forward. It suggests that reducing meat is becoming the new normal. This is the first study that singled out the category of plant-based fermentations, and their role in the needed diet transition. We see that there is enormous potential among consumers if the new products in this category were to match both price and sensory expectations.”

“The HealthFerm project aims to create plant-based fermented foods that offer health benefits to consumers," added Professor Christophe Courtin, Project Coordinator of HealthFerm. "To ensure success in these endeavors, a dedicated consumer work package has been established in the project to gather insights into the preferences for the next generation of fermented plant-based foods. This pioneering study provides valuable guidance for developing innovative fermentations that align with sensory expectations. Furthermore, the report highlights the significant market potential for fermented plant-based foods.”

The study found that taste preference is the primary driver of dietary lifestyle choices, followed by health and animal welfare. However, when consumers decide to reduce or remove meat from their diets, it is usually for personal health reasons. When it comes to choosing plant-based and fermented plant-based foods, key barriers include perceived inconvenience, satiety and taste concerns, and a lack of familiarity with such products. “Consumers are clearly motivated by taste and health when choosing their diets,” explained Jean-Paul Garin, a Umeå University researcher working on the study. “However, for plant-based fermented foods to become mainstream, it's essential to also address barriers related to convenience and familiarity.”

The survey also explored market opportunities and consumer expectations for plant-based fermented foods. Respondents from some countries showed a strong preference for fermented plant-based meat and dairy products priced at parity with animal-based based products rather than priced lower. Willingness to try foods prepared via different fermentation processes was high, with traditional fermentation methods most accepted, followed by precision and biomass fermentation. Younger, educated, and financially secure respondents displayed a greater willingness to try products prepared using different fermentation technologies.

“Our research provides actionable insights for policy makers aiming to promote sustainable food production and dietary practices, product developers seeking to create appealing options, and marketers working to position these products in the market,” noted Arturo Turillazzi, a Umeå University researcher working on the study. “The acceptance of various fermentation technologies suggests a promising future for these innovative food products.”

Delving into sensory preferences, the survey identified key attributes that consumers would like, and dislike, in several fermented plant-based foods. For fermented plant-based yogurt and drinkable yogurts, consumers want products that are white, creamy, sweet, and uniform, without beany flavours. For fermented plant-based chicken alternatives, even color, natural shape, chicken-like odour, and a tender texture were important. In protein-enriched breads, small air bubbles, cohesiveness, roasted and nutty aromas, and a crispy yet soft texture were preferred.

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