Supporting the development of plant-based alternatives in meats with digital olfaction

By Fanny Turlure

The market for plant-based alternatives to meats has evolved tremendously in recent years. The first generation of plant-based protein alternatives were primarily driven by vegetarians and vegans who generally dislike the taste and smell of meat. Today, many plant-based consumers are drawn to alternative proteins by the promise of better sustainability (reduced use of animals, land, and water, and reduced GHG emissions) and improved health – trends that accelerated in the wake of the pandemic, during which meat supply chains also experienced disruption.

Let’s look at some numbers. According to a new study from the University of Bergen in Norway, “young adults can add more than a decade to their expected life-span” by switching to a more plant-based diet. But sustainability is even more top of mind for many, with recent research showing that consumers now rank planetary health as their number one concern, overtaking personal health, which has been the top priority in recent years.

This new group interested in plant-based foods brings with it an interesting dynamic for food manufacturers to address. They are not ready to compromise on their beloved meat flavor and texture and still crave and desire the full experience of cooking and eating meat – with aroma playing a vital role to their dietary choices.

Many mainstream food manufacturers are taking notice of the uptick in consumer interest and are up for the plant-based challenge. Funding for the plant-based meat industry alone reached $1.4B in 2020. The industry is growing both organically with traditional players developing their own plant-based options (Nestlé), and through acquisitions with meat companies acquiring plant-based brands (Unilever, JBS). Just this past month Givaudan, a leading manufacturer of flavors, fragrances and active cosmetic ingredients, announced the launch of PrimeLock+, a natural, vegan-friendly solution that is said to encapsulate, protect and lock in flavor and fat in plant-based meat substitutes to better recreate the meat experience.

It’s clear that meat alternatives are sure to continue to rise in popularity. But, how can food manufacturers keep pace in the increasingly competitive industry? Let’s take a look at how digital olfaction technology can help.

Improving the manufacturing, cooking & eating experience

Meats have specific flavor profiles – including how the odor and taste evolves from when it is purchased, to being opened, cooked and eaten. Reproducing and refining these flavor profiles requires much repetition and attention to detail from manufacturers so that the consumer won’t be put off by changes in or differences from his or her preferred product.

Aryballe’s digital olfaction technology uses machine learning to mimic the human sense of smell to help companies give customers the experience of cooking traditional meat, but with plant-based products. The technology enables manufacturing teams to first record certain meat aromas, and then quickly and effectively screen large numbers of reformulations based on their smell, comparing the new formulas to both the original source and other formulas for the best match. Digital olfaction can also track the fragrance evolution of these new plant-based alternatives during cooking and upon decay, comparing them again to the original meat source and different formulas while updating its algorithms along the way for smarter testing.

This process helps food manufacturers improve operations, cut costs and ensure quality products – all current pain points within the industry. This is also especially critical with today’s challenging supply chain environment. Providing easy-to-implement data and workflows to support manufacturers as they evolve their plant-based products has become more critical than ever in this quickly evolving space.

This is my second post in my blog series on sustainability. Stay tuned for my next piece on supporting sustainability within the packaging and automotive industry coming soon.