Following trends from other markets, Australian food producers are stepping up to challenge the traditional treats and familiar snack formulations that vegans and those allergic to soy have been denied. Plant-based alternatives have developed considerably in recent years with the industry focusing on improvements to taste. The intent is not just to appeal to strict vegans, but also to flexitarians—those who choose to avoid meat products for a few days a week. It’s much harder to break into that broader market when taste isn’t prioritised in food formulation.
Plant-based snack foods are breaking out of the health food aisle nowadays with options even in the ice-cream freezer. Unilever’s vegan Magnum has hit the shelves and is 100% dairy-free, from the crunchy dairy-free chocolate-like shell to the velvety-smooth vanilla-flavoured pea protein. Before being able to make a 100% dairy-free claim, manufacturers must be subjected to a swab test of the production line to ensure the product is clean of residues and allergen-free. Similarly to gluten-free products, milk allergens can have significant health ramifications for affected consumers and manufacturers may be at risk of lasting reputational damage. An entirely new production line may not be required to be successful in making a vegan claim, however an assessment of current production and cleaning processes is a good place to start.
Australia is well-placed for a successful industry in plant-based food manufacture. In pharmacies and supermarkets, we’re seeing an increasing number of distributors supplying hemp seeds, proteins and powders, but it has wider application for foods. Hemp has a great taste and can be used in everything from dairy to bakery. At the moment, hemp milk is imported from Spain, Europe, Canada or USA, and there is demand for local production. Our emerging hemp agribusiness sector is poised to respond, though more consumer education is required. With recent changes to U.S. legalities involved with cultivation and sale, hemp is set to take on more challenges in food formulation.
Plant-based dairy alternatives don’t stop at hemp, though. Dairy farmers are facing a volatile future with plant-based beverages across a spectrum of sources. Soy and almond milks are well-known as alternatives and many dairy farmers have expanded their product portfolio to include them. With large producers like Danone ploughing resources into plant-based foods, it’s highly like we’ll begin to see novel ideas from old familiar products like chickpeas, alfalfa and camelina. Flaxseed milk products are already attracting investment given the multiple health benefits and the environmentally conscious production process.
Suppliers and manufacturers in the Australian food industry work closely with universities in the research and development of new plant-based products, and the commercialisation of those products is where FAPIC comes in. Working with clients on everything from product design to process, packaging, value proposition, cost optimisation, and IP protection, we get to see compelling plant-based alternatives go from theory to sale. It’s exciting work, and we look forward to seeing further developments in this market.