Extrusion processes are enabling manufacturers to produce a wide range of tasty and safe plant-based meat replacements with the potential to become a meat substitute for flexitarians. This is the result of a European research project entitled LikeMeat, for which Food & Biobased Research carried out the consumer tests.
The consumer study in the LikeMeat project concentrated on people who already ate a main meal without meat at least once a week. These ‘flexitarians’ were divided into groups of consumers according to whether they were motivated by health, a love of animals, enjoyment (hedonists) or convenience.
Researchers working on the European project prepared conceptual recipes based on these four consumer groups. The meat replacement produced via extrusion has a meaty consistency. LikeMeat products are a mix of plant-based proteins, starch and fibres, which are then made into a range of meat substitutes using herbs, spices, aromas and salt.
The consumer study involved 88 Dutch consumers testing a selection of LikeMeat products, both in the Restaurant of the Future and at home. In order to create a real-life setting for the tests, the consumers were served the meat substitutes on more than one occasion, were provided with product information and given a free choice of products. The study monitored storage, packaging and microbiological safety aspects as well as consumer satisfaction.
Six weeks running, a dinner was organised in the restaurant consisting of three buffets from which consumers were asked to choose: a Mexican buffet (taco with LikeMeat filling), Italian buffet (pasta sauce with LikeMeat mince) and a curry buffet (fried strips of LikeMeat with rice and curry sauce). The flexitarians’ choices were registered via the till system. The paths that some of the consumers took between the buffets while making their choice were also monitored. This wireless tracking system calculated the time that consumers spent in certain buffet zones, how fast they walked and how long they spent standing still. This data was linked to their final choices.
Results of sensory tests
The Mexican dish scored best among the consumers. The scores for the likelihood of eating it again and buying it in the shops were the highest. The consumers ate more of this dish than the other two, and found it the most appealing.
Consumers also tried out a number of products at home, such as a LikeMeat hamburger and chicken breast. In addition to the consumer survey in a real-life setting, the researchers also set up a classic 1-bite taste test. The LikeMeat schnitzel scored best in this test and appears to have potential for success.
The taste test showed that consumers appreciated certain products more if they were given product information. The information probably helps them to understand why meat substitutes are different from ordinary meat and gives them a positive feeling about the products. This corresponds with the researchers’ own opinion that LikeMeat products do not have to be a perfect imitation of meat to satisfy this group of consumers.
In the project, Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research worked alongside the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, the BOKU (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences) in Austria, and ten medium-sized and small businesses. An article explaining the main results was recently published in Agro FOOD Industry Hi Tech (vol. 25, January/February 2014).