Hunting the flexitarian

05 Oct 2020

Hunting the flexitarian

Casual vegetarianism, known as the flexitarian diet, has exploded as a lifestyle. Meat-replacement products are now becoming more mainstream. As new and often larger players enter the market, it’s never been more important for producers to have a clear strategy and an experienced partner, like GEA, who can help them achieve the results needed to win over this growing consumer segment.

The flexitarian lifestyle is now more widely embraced in several markets, with more than 20 percent of the global population, according to Euromonitor International, claiming they are trying to reduce their meat in-take. Driven by a greater focus on health, the environment and animal welfare, many consumers are reevaluating their daily food choices. The increased availability of meat-replacement and vegetarian options at popular grocery chains and fast food restaurants is fueling even greater adoption of the flexitarian diet.

Pulses, nuts and seeds have long been consumed as a source of protein. Today however, many consumers are looking to replace meat products in at least some of their meals, and with alternatives that mimic what they are used to – whether that's a burger, chicken strips, sausages, crab meat or fish. And this means coming as close as possible to expectations regarding appearance, taste, mouthfeel and aroma.

The meat-replacement market: challenges and opportunities

The meat-replacement market shows no signs of slowing down, however, the playing field has changed in recent years with the entrance of more global food brands alongside established mid-sized players and start-ups. The opportunity to attract vegetarians and even vegans with their products is an exciting prospect for producers. That said, it is important to remember that real meat is often the benchmark for flexitarians when choosing products. 

Other considerations include understanding:

  • consumer preferences and buying power (e.g., more basic, economical products vs. higher-end choices with greater nutritional value)
  • the growing demand for low carbon footprint products and clean labeling (e.g., non-GMO; low fat, fiber-rich, gluten-free)
  • potential difficulty in sourcing some ingredients in quantities required for mass production

If the goal is to create a product that satisfies ‘clean labeling’ standards by reducing additives and preservatives, then greater process control is required. This also means having the precise equipment for each task – from mixing to ingredient distribution and all processes down the line such as forming, coating and heat treatment.”– Harrie van Beers, Application Expert, GEA Food Solutions

– Harrie van Beers, Application Expert, GEA Food Solutions

GEA: Your partner for success in a developing category

GEA’s credentials in the meat-replacement and vegetarian food category include both global and regional champions, some of them white label suppliers, as well as pure players and start-ups. GEA has the expertise and knowledge to help producers meet consumer expectations, while managing customer needs for maximum flexibility, control and profitability. For each customer, we begin by getting a complete picture and understanding of what customers want to achieve. Once the product is defined, we work backwards starting with the desired end-result, then identify the right processes and equipment for creating a line that is both optimized and capable of producing a consistent, a high-quality product.

GEA’s equipment portfolio offers many benefits in both traditional meat processing and in the production of meat-replacement and vegetarian products. Modifications may be required to accommodate the unique properties of plant-based ingredients, such as reconfiguring the knives in preparation equipment to reduce shear force. However, the primary hurdles producers tend to face are on the process side. For example, when it comes to the hydration of raw ingredients, the emulsion process or maintaining the correct temperature for each phase.

In addition to our in-depth process knowledge and understanding of alternative protein ingredients, we provide customers with the opportunity to test ingredients, processes and equipment at our GEA Food Solutions Technology Center located in Bakel, the Netherlands, either in person or remotely. This important option eliminates much of the risk producers would otherwise face when scaling up their production. As a result, they get their product to market more quickly and avoid costly changes later, or interruptions to their planned production process. And thanks to a robust global supply chain, we ensure businesses, regardless of size, can scale up to reliable and robust production – quickly and effectively.

GEA offers tailored and task-specific end-to-end equipment and solutions for meat-replacement production, developed as a result of our own independent testing and years of close cooperation with customers. Our portfolio covers:

  • Preparation (e.g., mixing, grinding, cutting, emulsifying)
  • Forming 
  • Coating 
  • Heat treatment (e.g., cooking, steaming, frying)
  • Freezing & chilling
  • Packaging
GEA meat replacement vegetarian foods falafel

The GEA CutMaster, for example, allows for the hydration of raw materials under vacuum and also performs cutting and emulsifying, mixes the ingredients and then cools them. Available in a standard or vacuum format with a choice of multiple bowl volumes ranging from 200 to 750 litres, it has the capacity to process up to 2,000 kg per hour. The CutMaster is ideal for use with extruded or granulated textured vegetable protein (TVP) and many other proteins including purified pea protein, soy protein, extrudates of sunflower and peas, wheat protein, gluten and methylcellulose.

For mixing and tempering, the GEA ProMix uses ColdSteam technology which allows for the finetuning of both temperature and consistency, resulting in the ideal structure for forming high-quality vegetarian products. For perfect forming, the GEA MaxiFormer, suitable for 600 mm and 1000 mm wide lines, is the most efficient former within the GEA series and provides the highest output, at up to 5,000 kg per hour. The GEA CrumbMaster offers the latest breading technology and accommodates diverse breadcrumb types. When frying is required, the modular GEA EasyFry provides excellent flexibility and is available in diverse lengths, widths, capacities and belt speeds. And for cooking, steaming, roasting and frying, the GEA CookStar is our highly-awarded industrial spiral oven, delivering excellent performance across all parameters, including capacity, throughput, flexibility, consistency and reliability.

All these GEA solutions are specially designed for ease of cleaning, ensuring optimal hygiene standards and minimizing downtime.

We recently developed the production processes and then tested a fish-replacement product with a customer at our Bakel technology center. The end-product looks like fish, smells like fish and tastes like fish. It even has the bite.”– Marcel van de Heuvel, Senior Sales Manager, GEA Food Solutions

– Marcel van de Heuvel, Senior Sales Manager, GEA Food Solutions

Hunting the flexitarian

GEA processing solutions for alternative proteins

GEA solutions for alternative protein processing accommodate a broad range of raw materials, including soy, rapeseed & sunflower seeds, peas, mung beans, wheat, potatoes, corn, rice and tapioca. We’re also developing next-generation solutions for the sustainable processing of proteins and protein derivatives from algae and fungi. Our GEA centers of excellence provide customers with access to high-quality equipment for centrifugal separation, evaporation & membrane filtration, pasteurization & aseptic filling as well as solid feed- & spray drying, facilitating recipe experimentation, process development and validation.

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