Planting the idea of innovation at speed
Agility and transparency are key to helping brands respond to consumer demand for plant-based products. IMCD Food & Nutrition Germany shows how by developing a flavoursome vegan savoury snack with a convincing taste profile for the export market within a very short time frame – all while working remotely during the pandemic.
Growing consumer demand for plant-forward food has prompted manufacturers to respond by expanding their range of vegan offerings. When one German producer wanted to create a plant-based version of a popular meat-based savoury snack for an export market outside the EU, it came to IMCD for help.
With its global expertise and specialist local knowledge, IMCD was able to develop a new product in just under a month’s time.
The traditional meat-based savoury snack is available in many flavours across several European markets. However, the customer did not have a vegan alternative to cater to changing customer demands.
Product knowledge and agility are essential to meeting fast-evolving consumer needs, says Anne Gerlach, Taste Account Manager at IMCD Germany. “The timeline on the customer’s side was extremely challenging,” she explains. “Not only was the brand under pressure to meet consumers’ expectations on a vegan alternative, but its competitors had already moved forward with the launch of new plant-based products.”
The solution was developed at the height of the coronavirus outbreak. All meetings and consultations necessarily took place digitally, adding further complexities to the product innovation process.
In total, despite the added operational constraints, the entire process from initial consultations to the first sale of the new tailormade solution took just three months.
Emerging new vegan products
Demand for vegan foods continues to rise. Beyond meatless burgers and other fast-food items, plant-based snacking has emerged as an attractive new market segment. Overall, the plant-based snack market is projected to grow at a compound annual rate of 8.7%, exceeding the projected growth of the general snack market as a whole, industry research shows.
Omnivores and flexitarians purchase nearly two-thirds (73 per cent) of plant-based products, so creating plant-based versions of well-known products can help ensure broad appeal.
As a result, an increasing number of new and established brands are launching vegan alternatives to established meat items. Plant-based mortadella, bologna, salami and sausage are some examples of innovations in the meat-free space.
The German customer wanted to reach consumers on the go with just such a product.
Short innovation cycle
The customer is a major international food business with household-name brands in several countries in Europe and elsewhere.
When its German subsidiary wanted to create a new vegan savoury snack, IMCD was a natural partner. At the same time, the client also approached other distributors in an attempt to bring a new product to market as fast as possible.
Although the customer initially only came to IMCD for new samples, further discussions indicated that IMCD could also support them on other development issues.
“For us, the challenge was clear: create new opportunities for both our customer and our supplier as quickly as possible – all while everyone was adjusting to working remotely,” says Silvie Bayer – Head of Taste Account & Product Management.
The customer had tested several flavours from IMCD in the past. Based on the results from a customer panel, it shortlisted two flavours and asked IMCD to create product samples for further testing in the target market.
“We immediately brought in a local supplier whom we knew could deliver a great-tasting product within a short time frame,” Bayer says.
Speed and transparency
Two strategies worked in IMCD’s favour: bringing together potential suppliers as quickly as possible, and transparency with all the different stakeholders involved.
“Speed and transparency are key,” says Laura Alibani – Category Director Functional Ingredients, EMEA & Business Unit Manager Food & Nutrition, Germany. “Quick development is also particularly challenging when it comes to new markets such as vegan or plant-based products.”
IMCD’s experts worked alongside both the supplier and the customer. Several bespoke iterations were created, tested, and adjusted for a variety of different parameters along the way until the team felt they had a great-tasting quality product that delivered on the brand’s reputation.
The new product is available in retail outlets in several out-of-home markets. IMCD has already received orders for further production.
“It’s clear that vegan snacks can taste great,” Alibani adds.
Inspiring opportunities across the food sector
The project showcases IMCD’s strength and agility in developing on-trend products at a time when consumer preferences are changing rapidly.
It has also led the customer to choose IMCD as a trusted supplier for existing ingredients and future opportunities to come in other applications, Alibani explains.
“We’re proud to have supported such a well-reputed brand by developing a new product in an incredibly short timeframe and to have built a strong and reliable relationship despite the operational difficulties caused by the pandemic. This mutual commitment promises to lead to a strong and long-lasting partnership,” Alibani concludes.
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