The last few years has seen a large increase in the number of new product introductions in the meat substitutes category, which includes products made from soy, tofu, mycoprotein and TVP. As well as catering for vegetarians, such products also appeal to healthy eaters looking to curb their meat intake, as Mintel's Amanda Lintott reports.

In the past three years, the meat substitutes sub-category has seen a large increase in terms of new product introductions. Last year Mintel's GNPD picked up some 318 new meat substitute products globally.

These products include soy, tofu, mycoprotein (such as Quorn) and TVP (textured vegetable protein). In terms of global activity, the most active region was North America, accounting for 38% of all global launches; this was followed by Europe with a 34% share. Asia Pacific accounted for 15% of the introductions and the least active regions Middle East & Africa and Latin America held 5% each.

Launches are increasingly mimicking real meat dishes both in flavour and texture, with meat-free meatballs, burgers, steaks and pâtés being available to consumers looking for an alternative to meat. Such development particularly targets those consumers who do not or cannot eat meat, but still miss the taste and texture of the meaty dishes they used to eat. Indeed, these manufacturers continually aim to work towards producing new product development with full flavour and a texture similar to meat.

Recent examples of this NPD in the USA include Yves Veggie Cuisine (Hain-Celestial Group) The Good Breakfast range with its sausage patties, and Quaker Maid Meats Vegelicious! Meatless Meatballs made from soy. In the UK, Marlow Foods has added Farmhouse Style Pâté  to its Quorn Deli range.

Dairy-based meat substitute

In Germany, Eyckeler & Malt has introduced Vegetaria Grillplatte, a vegetarian selection of mixed grill, including vegetarian meatballs, hamburgers, corn burgers and marinade, while in Malaysia, Greenfarm Food Industries has introduced Crispy & Tasty Popcorn Soya Chicken, a deep fried soya bean chicken substitute.

One interesting product also worth mentioning is the Valess range by Campina available in the Netherlands. This range of meat substitutes is made from dairy products by curdling low-fat milk and adding fibre, which results in a meat-like product said to be tasty, juicy and with a firm structure.

Ingredients used in meat substitutes tend to be naturally good for you (e.g. low cholesterol and low fat), so it is no surprise that Mintel has reported on a number of launches claiming to be low in fat (10% of all products in the period under review) or cholesterol-free (28%). These claims are also known as 'Food Minus' and appeal to health-conscious consumers, who might be following a weight loss diet, or simply looking to reduce the fat levels in their diet. Some examples include, in Spain, Sant Dalmai 's Vegetarium Soy Fillet, a pre-cooked soy fillet with sauce, said to have 0% cholesterol and be low in fat. In the USA, Kellogg has introduced Morningstar Farms Vegan Burger, made with organic soy and free from trans fat and cholesterol, as well as containing 87% less fat than regular ground beef. In Singapore, Boca Foods Company has launched Boca Meatless Burgers, soy protein burgers said to contain 90% less fat. In the UK, Marlow Foods has introduced Quorn Deli Mini Fillets, barbecued mycoprotein fillets with a barbecue coating and less than 3% fat, and in the Netherlands, Marlow Foods has launched Quorn Italian Sausages, said to contain less than 3% fat.

Labels advertise low-carb nature of products

Low carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins and South Beach are well set in consumers' perceptions as 'meat-full' and 'vegetarian-incompatible' diets. Unsurprisingly, some manufacturers in the USA, where these diets are more popular, are flagging their meat-free introductions as 'low carb' and stating on-pack the carb content of the product, in order to appeal to consumers following low carb regimes. Recent examples include Yves Veggie Cuisine (Hain-Celestial Group) launched under its Carb Fit range Veggie Burgers, with only 4g of net carbs per serving.  Meanwhile FoodTech has introduced Veggie Patch Carb Slam Meatless Breakfast Patties with only 5g of net carbs per serving and zero cholesterol.

A vegetarian diet can sometimes lead to health complications as vital nutrients present in meat are not standard in most meat substitutes. Therefore, some manufacturers fortify their products with extra vitamins and minerals, while others state on-pack the natural health benefits of the ingredients used. This appeals not only to people who do not and cannot eat meat, but also to other health-conscious consumers looking for healthier ways to change their diets (who might not quit eating meat completely, but are open to trying an alternative a few times a week). Here examples include, in Israel, Tivall Vegetarian Sausages with Barbecue Crispy Coating, said to be enriched with vitamins C, E and B, as well as folic acid, calcium, iron and zinc.

Finally, as with most other food markets, the organic boom is very much alive and well in the meat substitutes sector - these claims accounting for around 31% of all launches. Indeed, an increasing number of consumers are concerned about the chemical content of products, and they are also looking for a healthier and 'better-for-you' alternative, these natural products often being perceived as being better for both the consumer and the environment.