FOOD FIRMS are busy exploring ways to substitute plant-based ingredients for meat in staple products, in an effort to serve consumers adopting 'flexitarian' diets.

A workshop held at the University of Nottingham heard that there is a growing trend amongst British consumers to be flexible in their choice of protein, sometimes looking for plant-based products, but not ruling out the occasional piece of meat.

Despite media exposure of the supposed rise in the popularity of entirely plant-based diets, official figures by YouGov in 2018 demonstrate that only 0.2% of people moved away from eating meat, fish and poultry last year, with only 2% of the population now leading a truly vegan lifestyle.

The reality is that many people are adopting a flexitarian diet as a ‘health choice’, with around 7% of the British population reducing, but not eliminating, meat consumption. Aside from the current focus, right or wrong, on livestock's carbon footprint, the Nottingham panel felt that there was some justification for increasing vegetable consumption on health grounds alone.

Managing director of market research company England Marketing, Jan England, explained: “80% of British children do not eat the recommended five a day and 20% are obese. Compare this with 90% of adults not eating five a day and a higher 26% obese and it is clear that the population needs to find more ways to include plant-based ingredients in their diet."

With those figures in mind, food sector researchers are currently developing ingredients such as plant-based emulsions to replace mayonnaise and foams to replace egg whites, with the goal of producing ptotein-rich food without using animal-based ingredients.

The workshop was chaired by the Agrifood Training Partnership director Carol Wagstaff, who commented: “We have heard some fascinating talks exploring the challenges of plant-based product development…should we be aspiring to imitate meat, replace it or create entirely new eating experiences? What we do know is that a more plant-based diet is already part of our future.”