top of page
Taste Awards

Quentin Schotte, convenience and snacking manager for Cargill Food Solutions Europe, explores how plant-based confectionery producers can enhance their sweet treats without the use of gelatin and other animal-derived ingredients.

Consumer preferences are evolving, and the trend towards health conscious and more sustainable food choices continues to rise. Even traditionally indulgent sector, like sugar confectionery, are now looking at how they can reduce their sugar content and enhance their vegan or plant-based offerings.

When consumers learn about a gummy’s plant-based origins, positive perception grows. Recent proprietary research conducted by Cargill shows that over 60% of UK consumers, 70% of Germans and 85% of Spaniards are interested in plant-based gummies, and associate plant-based with healthier ingredients.

Key drivers for these consumers include a belief that plant-based products are more sustainable and better for you than regular gummies, which is further strengthened by more positive perceptions of certain plant-based sweeteners and texturizers over others.

Embracing this shift presents an opportunity for customers to launch new brands or product lines, thereby driving growth in a challenging market where consumers are increasingly budget-conscious due to escalating food costs. As a result, we are already seeing that ‘vegan’ and ‘plant based’ are top claims among new product launches across sugar confectionery categories. Data from Innova, tracking new launches in the market, shows that ‘vegan’ claims have one of the highest growth rates, and that ‘plant-based’ is in the top five claims for new product launches across most sugar confectionery sub-categories.

Finding the sweet spot

However, today’s plant-based consumers won’t accept sweet treats that don’t deliver organoleptically. Sugar confectionery products are inherently indulgent, and must offer the right taste, sweetness and texture to compete with traditional counterparts. Market success can only be achieved by finding the perfect balance of these aspects. 

The use of plant-based texturizers can require new formulations and production methods. Delivering to these technical and sensory needs requires real formulation know-how. There are also multiple plant-based solutions available on the market for sweeteners, texturizers and more – each with their own ingredient properties. This can add an additional layer of complexity to the process.

The challenge is further compounded by the fact that there are different opinions on what makes for the right gummy or other sweet treat in the first place. Consumers in different countries have highly divergent perspectives when it comes to key aspects, such as texture. There are also clear differences between someone who prefers premium products, someone who cares about health and sustainability, and those that are purely motivated by cost.  

For example, consumer research has shown that Spanish consumers clearly prefer a plant-based solution that offers a more chewable, non-sticky texture and a sweet and fruity flavour. By contrast, in Northern Europe, gelatin or plant-based alternatives with a springier, firm or slippery texture will appeal most to consumers.

We’re also seeing cross-sectional differences in country – for example, premium product seekers prefer a more chewable, non-sticky texture which corresponds well with plant-based solutions such as pectin. By age, we’re seeing the younger generation lean towards harder, more springy textures, which links to carrageenan, but also gelatin.

Testing texturizers

To demonstrate the full range of possibilities we applied this research to create prototypes incorporating the most frequently used plant-based texturizers (e.g. pectin, starch and carrageenan) and maximised their properties to clearly differentiate between their properties and sensory profiles. This testing has been incredibly helpful to develop tailored solutions to help food manufacturers get even closer to mirroring both the taste and texture of traditional gummy confectionery with plant-based ingredients.

Drawing insight from sensory research and market data can enrich the process of product development, so that plant-based confectionery can resonate with the diverse tastes and preferences of consumers. By understanding the intricate interplay of texture and flavour dynamics, producers can be empowered to help create treats that captivate the senses while aiming to meet the demands of a health-conscious market.

Opinion: Plant power meets sugar confectionery

News Desk

16 June 2024

Opinion: Plant power meets sugar confectionery

bottom of page