Striking the balance between health and indulgence with plant-based chocolate

Christian Philippsen, MD,  BENEO, Asia Pacific 

In recent years, the plant-based diet has become of interest to many consumers’ nutritional agendas. As of 2021, nearly 1 in 2 consumers across the globe are interested in plant-based foods and beverages 1, signifying the shift from niche to mainstream for this segment of the product market. 

The key driving force behind this transition can be pinned to flexitarianism — a diet that is primarily vegetarian but occasionally includes meat and fish. BENEO’s latest plant-based consumer survey 2 shows that one in four consumers globally now identify as flexitarians, and Asia is leading the way with 28% of consumers describing their diet as flexitarian 3. This makes them the most important target group for manufacturers of plant-based products to effectively tap into this trend. 

Underpinning the surge in plant-based diets and flexitarianism is the rising motivation to eat more healthily, and this includes looking for vegan indulgence options. In fact, 32% of global flexitarians are already buying plant-based sweets4, while another 42% are interested in it. Following the aspect of an improved diet, besides not containing animal-derived components there is for example also demand for healthier sugar alternatives or clean labels. 

Treating your taste buds with plant-based chocolate
Chocolate is the first word that comes to mind when consumers hear the word “treat” 5, with more than 1 in 3 people worldwide buying chocolate to improve their mood and indulge6 . This makes chocolate an ideal target when it comes to expanding the catalogue of plant-based sweets and confectioneries that are dairy-free. 

Enabling manufacturers to serve this demand, BENEO has extended its portfolio of specialty rice ingredients. The company’s Nutriz range consists of blends of dried rice syrup, rice flour and rice starch. With a light colour and neutral taste, this milk powder replacement is ideal for use in dairy-free chocolate. It also enables the development of plant-based cocoa bars providing a nice taste, good snap, smooth mouthfeel and a good melting behaviour.

Rice has been proving particularly popular as an ingredient in the plant-based sector: BENEO’s research shows that 7 out of 10 flexitarians see rice as an appealing source for dairy alternatives. 7 Using rice ingredients to develop plant-based chocolate can also be a viable solution to the demand for clean label products, and rice starch and rice flour score highly in this context: people perceive them as a natural and familiar cupboard ingredient, with 61 and 71 percent of consumers worldwide regarding rice starch and rice flour as natural respectively.8

Catering to long-term nutritional expectations
While consumers these days prioritise health-consciousness, manufacturers must realise that this does not equate to compromising on indulgence. 

As demand for healthier plant-based alternatives soars, factors like taste and texture which influence consumers’ purchasing decisions must be kept top-of-mind. Indeed, according to BENEO’s plant-based survey, the aspect “pleasant taste and texture” is top priority (44%) when being asked which factors consumers pay attention when shopping for plant-based alternatives for sweets and bakery. 9  44% of respondents to BENEO’s plant-based survey say that  Through strategically leveraging ingredients like those derived from rice to develop healthier bakery and sweet options, manufacturers will be better positioned to cater to consumers’ nutritional expectations and ride on the plant-based wave.

  1. BENEO Global Plant-Based Survey 2021 - Insites Consulting conducted an online quantitative survey in July 2021 in Spain, France, Germany, Poland, UK, US, Brazil, Australia, China and Russia: 1000 consumers/ country = 11,990 consumers in total. [48% gives a score of 7 or more on interest in plant-based nutrition N=11990]
  2. BENEO Global Plant-Based Survey 2021
  3.  FMCG Gurus: Health and Wellness: Plant for the Planet in 2022, February 2022
  4.  BENEO Global Plant-Based Survey 2021 (Filter: Bakery & Sweets Consumers & Flexitarian)
  5.  NCA Annual Review: Sweet Insights – State of Treating 2021
  6.  Mintel: The future of chocolate-sugar-gum confectionery 2020
  7.  BENEO Global Plant-Based Survey 2021 (Filter: Global Dairy Consumers & Flexitarian)
  8.  Health Focus International 2018
  9.   BENEO Global Plant Based Survey 2021 (Filter: Bakery & Sweets Consumers)