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Whether driven by simple curiosity or concerns over personal health, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability, consumers are exploring plant-based alternatives and asking discerning questions about the source of their food. Laura Barber, vice president of consumer and market insights with global ingredients and solutions company ofi, explains how the trend has expanded, why quality matters, and how the company’s products and services are supporting innovation.

What has ofi’s research revealed about trends in the plant-based market?  

Some members of the food industry might have the perception that plant-based and traditional animal-derived products are in a strict this-or-that relationship. But our proprietary consumer research points to a more nuanced reality. Take dairy products, for example. We found that 65 percent of U.S. consumers are buying plant-based dairy alongside traditional dairy. Nearly the same percentage of European consumers see plant-based alternatives as complementary to traditional dairy—an opportunity to try something new, particularly in indulgent categories like ice cream, desserts, and cocoa beverages.  

One big takeaway from our research is that a certain percentage of consumers (7% of U.S. and 8% of European) switched back to traditional dairy products because of dissatisfaction with the first plant-based option they tried. In the multi-billion-dollar plant-based marketplace, this presents a big opportunity for companies to improve product quality, and it points to the need to captivate consumers through fresh, creative, and collaborative approaches to flavor creation, color, and texture development.  

What is ofi’s role in this?  

Consisting of industry-leading businesses in cocoa, coffee, dairy, nuts, and spices, we partner with customers to co-create solutions that anticipate and meet changing consumer preferences as demand increases for healthier food that’s traceable and sustainable. Our differentiated portfolio has broad appeal—from large global and regional food brands to niche local and artisanal chefs.  

How does ofi help customers improve product quality?  

We’re in a special position of being able to leverage a diversified yet complementary product portfolio, and I believe that our range of on-trend and natural ingredients sits at the forefront of enduring consumer trends in the food and beverage industry.  

With plant-based products, our in-house insights experts are able to pinpoint the most promising applications for ingredients like nut flours, spices, and cocoa powders. For example, we’re seeing booming demand in ready-to-drink coffee beverages for today’s time-poor consumers. In response, we’ve developed a delicious plant-based cappuccino that combines our creamy cashew paste with spray-dried soluble coffee. Our ability to tap into appealing positionings also stretches far beyond just plant-based. Our soluble coffee, for example, is available in varieties including decaf, single origin, organic, and Rainforest Alliance-certified.  

Innovation really is baked into our ways of working, from ingredient functionality and product development to agri-science and digital tools. I find it exciting that we’re able to provide global oversight thanks to our 15 innovation centers spread across the world, including four Customer Solution Centers in Chicago, Amsterdam, Singapore, and Bangalore.  

Consumers are increasingly interested in where their food comes from. Talk about ofi’s approach to responsible and sustainable sourcing and how this can help clients meet their sustainability targets.  

Our network of farmers, sustainability teams, agronomists, R&D specialists, and food and processing quality teams stretches across the entire supply chain. This allows us to influence how products are made, from the farms and facilities where they are produced to the innovation centers exploring new ingredients and formulations.  

To fulfill the growing appetite for naturally good food, we help farmers produce more on their existing land in ways that enhance livelihoods and protect landscapes in sourcing origins. Many of the 2.6 million smallholder farmers in our direct and indirect sourcing supply chain battle with low yields on aging farms, uncertain weather, poor infrastructure, and changes in global market pricing. As a result, they can struggle to break even, let alone grow their businesses.  

Yields and quality can often be improved through training on good agricultural practices, such as pruning and composting, as well as by providing access to inputs like fertilizer and labor-saving technology. Meanwhile, for larger-scale farmers who face challenges with climate change, water security, and steep production costs, we’re deploying seed breeding programs, irrigation solutions, and drone technology to reduce costs and the land, water, and other resources required per acre. 

These challenges are also why ofi has invested in digital tools like our sustainability management system AtSource. It’s powered by primary data sourced by teams on the ground to provide a window into the social and environmental footprints of our ingredients, specific to each customer’s supply chain. This insight informs where further interventions are required and presents opportunities for customers to work with us to explore and create action plans that drive improvement. This makes the value of our supply chain provenance real for customers. The way our on-site teams manage our supply chains and deliver sustainability impact is exemplified in our dedicated product sustainability strategies, which include Nut Trails, Coffee LENS, and Cocoa Compass. In this way, we like to say we can work with our customers and other partners to “be the change for good food and a healthy future.”  

Interested in learning more about ofi and what it can offer? Download this free plant-based report today.   

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