Plant-Based Cheese Alternatives: Growth Potential Thanks to Increased Variety

In plant-based alternatives to cheese, Germany is the leader in Europe by a wide margin. A study by the Good Food Institute Europe shows that revenues in this country came to almost € 79 million last year, followed by Great Britain with not quite € 39 million. To further leverage this potential, Planteneers helps manufacturers by supplying tailor-made integrated compounds.

“In last three years, revenue with plant-based alternatives to cheese in Germany grew by 94 percent. Sales growth was even higher at 108 percent,” reports Linda Eitelberger, Product Manager Planteneers. “And we don’t think the potential has been exhausted yet, by any means. So with the numerous functional systems in our fiildDairy series we offer manufacturers a wide selection of concepts for new products.” The spectrum ranges from systems for plant-based alternatives to cream cheese, feta, and pizza cheese, to sliceable cheese in slices and blocks, to processed cheese preparations. Among the latest developments are plant-based versions of high-sales classics like cheddar and parmesan.

Hard Cheese Classics, Plant-Based

Traditional hard cheeses like parmesan and Grana Padano are used in many dishes around  the world, so they have great market potential. “We’ve developed various systems for plant-based alternatives to parmesan, in order to offer customers maximum flexibility,” explains Linda Eitelberger. The compounds in the fiildDairy range can be used to make products using process cookers as well as cutter systems such as are used in the meat industry. In order to give the final product flavor and texture that can scarcely be told from the original, these hard cheese alternatives can be filled into artificial sausage skins and hung in a drying chamber. “Drying gives the product the familiar texture,” says Eitelberger. “Another option is to smoke the parmesan alternative. We can also adjust the flavor profile using plant proteins or natural flavors, depending on what the customer wants. There are many possibilities.”

The hard cheese alternatives also offer convincing functionality. The systems use starch and selected proteins, with water and coconut oil stirred in. Like the animal original, the vegan final products have a crumbly structure. They can be grated, rasped, and sliced. They also have outstanding melt properties. The gratings are great for making chips for garnish. Ultimately, they can be used just like real parmesan and Grana Padano.

Cheddar Alternatives Unite the Megatrends of Indulgence and Health

Flavor is a convincing reason to buy for 64 percent of consumers. For 47 percent, health is the main reason to choose plant-based foods. These are the conclusions of the Nutrition Report by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. In order to combine the sales benefits of both indulgence and health, plant-based alternatives are enriched with nutrients. Here, Planteneers works very closely with its sister company SternVitamin, which has developed a premix with the most important micronutrients found in conventional sliced cheese. These include vitamins A, D, B2, B3 and B12 and the minerals calcium und zinc. Adding micronutrients also enables health claims on the packaging. One possible health claim might be “Calcium is needed to maintain normal bones and teeth.”

“Enrichment with protein is much more difficult,” notes Eitelberger. “After all, the final products need to offer the right flavor and texture, in addition to nutrients. This is a challenge we’ve been working on for some time. But we have now succeeded in developing a system for a plant-based alternative to cheddar with a protein content of seven percent. Conventional sliced cheese alternatives as a rule have no more than one percent protein.” The system is based on a mix of plant proteins, and even meets the requirements for clean label formulations. “Right now this is unique on the market” according to Eitelberger. The end product contains neither modified starches nor other E-numbers. It features a firm consistency, creamy mouthfeel, and authentic flavor.

With this enriched cheddar alternative, manufacturers can address the demand for healthy plant-based snacks, as well as the demand for convenient ingredients for the growing takeaway business in the out-of-home market. The Planteneers system can be used to make slices, cubes, and sticks with sharp cut edges. These offer new potential, since until now cubes and sticks have largely been absent in the plant-based cheese segment.

Plant-Based Alternatives to Camembert 

For the development of plant-based camembert alternatives, Planteneers even invested in a new pilot plant that can reproduce the production conditions of traditional cheese-making.   “Our goal was to make a creamy alternative to camembert with a protein content of 10 to 13 percent,” reports Eitelberger. “To that end we did basic research and tested many different raw materials. After much testing, we selected soy and pea protein. From these and other ingredients we made plant-based alternatives to conventional milk, to which we added a vegan starter culture in our trial cheese plant.”

In developing its tailor-made functional systems, Planteneers always considers the production conditions of its customers. If conventional cheese-making facilities are not available, there are also solutions that work with a process cooker. In either case, the camembert alternatives are sprayed with a mold culture and held in a ripening cabinet. The mold culture brings them very close to the aromatic flavor of classic camembert. The plant-based product also acts very similar in applications. It can be used on bread, or breaded and baked.

Regional Specialties Expand the Segment

The cheese alternatives product line is being expanded with further country-specific classics, trends, and preferences. One current example is a plant-based alternative to cream cheese in jars, which is very popular in the Middle East. Planteneers also enables the manufacture of various alternatives to processed cheese preparations, in spreadable versions or as triangles. The advantage of these products is that they contain none of the phosphates otherwise used as emulsifying salts. Another plus point is that customers can develop the final product conveniently on PC or tablet in 15 to 20 minutes. The PlantbaserTM digital product configurator makes it possible.