Plant-based foods are seemingly everywhere these days. Consumers are turning to vegan alternatives for their favorite foods for a variety for reasons — primarily health and environmental concerns. Veganism is on the rise, resulting in a surge of new products across categories aiming to meet the dietary needs of those adhering to plant-based diets.

An increasing number of consumers are identifying as flexitarians, or those who primarily adhere to a vegetarian diet, but occasionally consume meat. Even those with less-adventurous palates have been stepping outside of their comfort zones and trying plant-based foods purely out of curiosity. From innovative ice cream alternatives in the frozen aisle to plant-based burgers in foodservice establishments of all kinds, vegan foods are here to stay.

The dairy category has most certainly been — and will continue to be — impacted by this trend. Nut-based “milk” has seen massive increases in recent years. What was once a category primarily geared toward those with dairy allergies and intolerances is now a category that attracts a diverse range of consumers.

As consumers continue to look for what they perceive to be healthier and more environmentally friendly products, the demand for plant-based alternatives to traditional dairy products will only continue to increase. From vegan “cheese” to coconut-based “yogurt” to dairy-free sauces, consumers will be looking for more — and better tasting — plant-based options in 2020 and beyond.


Taste matters

Despite their growing popularity, many plant-based products are still met with skepticism from consumers — especially in categories such as dairy and meat, where the products are traditionally animal-derived. Their main source of hesitation? The taste.

When it comes to plant-based dairy alternatives, the primary complaint that consumers have is that it just doesn’t taste the same as the dairy version. Fortunately, there are solutions for that. There are ways to formulate seasonings that make the end result almost indistinguishable from “the real deal.” There are also ways to complement the base that you’re working with to make a vegan product that is not imitating its dairy counterpart, but rather delivers a distinctively delicious flavor that is just as good, if not better, than the traditional dairy option.

Making a great-tasting seasoning for a plant-based dairy alternative product is truly an art. It all begins with finding the right flavor profile for the product.

Take a coconut milk based “ice cream,” for example. Most consumers who purchase a coconut “milk”-based product will expect the coconut flavor to be front-and-center, so look to flavors that complement coconut rather than attempt to cover it up. Better to keep it simple, while still keeping it exciting, with flavors like honey matcha or chai. Another way to truly highlight the coconut is to play into its tropical vibe with flavors such as sweet coconut curry, banana rum or pineapple.

While it may be tempting to just stick with traditional flavors such as chocolate and vanilla, for dairy substitute products, keep in mind that consumers are always looking for what’s new and unique and different. In a market that is growing rapidly, it’s important to stand out with unique and great-tasting flavors that will keep consumers coming back for more.

In some cases, consumers are looking for a direct substitute for traditional dairy products, but today’s consumers tend to prefer shaking things up and trying something new. Flavor is a great way to catch their attention. 


Be a trend-watcher

Pay attention to current flavor trends and lean into those when developing new plant-based products. While a range of consumers are purchasing plant-based products, the majority still skew somewhat younger, and we know that when it comes to flavor, younger consumers are particularly trend-conscious. So, flavor profiles that include a smoky element, or extra heat from unique peppers, or even superfoods could make a vegan alternative product all the more attractive.

There’s no doubt that the shift to more plant-based eating will be among the top trends of this decade. Consumers are looking for exciting, great-tasting vegan “dairy” options, and there’s no time like the present to hop on board and offer them something they’ll totally crave for years to come.

Flavor trends are always changing and evolving. To stay in the know, follow Fuchs North America’s flavor trends blog.