RSSL Vegan and Vegetarian Food Insights

Join RSSL as we take an in-depth look at the science behind developing and manufacturing vegan and vegetarian food products.

The plant-based market has seen exponential growth over the last few years, as more people opt to a follow a vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian lifestyle. With this trend showing no sign of slowing, manufacturers are keen to create in-demand products in order to be part of this developing market.

Throughout January 2021, RSSL will be sharing our insights on the developing vegan market through a variety of thought provoking articles, videos and webinars. We strive to keep you up to date with emerging trends and developments and stay ahead of a rapidly evolving market.

  • How better nutrition will shape vegan 2.0

    By Carole Bingley, RSSL's Technical Specialist Food Innovation

    There’s no doubt that vegan products have come a long way over the last few years. Yet although plant-based eating has moved firmly into the mainstream, there is still work to be done in terms of improving the nutritional profile of these products.

    Without taking steps to justify the perception that vegan products are healthier options, many brands risk losing a significant part of their appeal. Not least for the highly influential flexitarian audience who consistently cite health as the main reason for reducing meat consumption.

    So, despite the huge strides that have been made in terms of creating a range of vegan foods with appealing tastes and textures, these achievements are no longer enough.
    Their nutritional value is increasingly under scrutiny and the general assumption that they offer a healthier alternative is being challenged. This recent attention - particularly the backlash against so-called 'vegan junk food' - has moved the issue of nutrition to the top of the agenda for many producers and re-energised efforts to meet consumer expectations. So, what are the priorities?

    Protein content is perhaps one of the most important areas for plant-based products, particularly when it comes to dairy equivalents. Oat milk, for example, benefits from a great taste and positive association with health but is extremely low in protein and offers little in terms of micronutrients compared to cow’s milk. So, the next wave of development needs to focus on keeping the positives but build a much stronger nutritional profile; either by blending different proteins to boost overall levels and/or using micronutrient fortification.

    Companies that also work with the latest naturally-derived ingredients, such as iodine sourced from seaweed or vitamin D from mushroom powder, will add a further dimension to their brand story.

    The good news is that there are a number of exciting brands in this space that are already raising the bar in terms of nutritional claims.

    Click here to download and read the full article.



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  • What's next for Vegan Formulations?

    By Carole Bingley, RSSL's Technical Specialist Food Innovation

    In many ways, there has never been a more exciting time to create vegan products and much has already been achieved. But with consumers increasingly familiar with plant-based ingredients and concepts, the challenge for formulators now is how to build on this success and where to focus their efforts - particularly given the complexities involved.

    Vegan egg alternatives, for example, is an emerging area that is currently generating significant interest. Largely driven by a ground-breaking US brand - which uses a proprietary mung bean protein and can be cooked in a variety of different ways - many manufacturers are keen to grow the category by developing their own products.

    However, this is easier said than done. Plant-based proteins don't behave in the same way as their animal-based equivalents. And while a great deal of work is ongoing, it may be some time before there is a standard way to replicate the gelling action of eggs without relying on stabilisers; a method which supports product functionality but does little to boost protein content or taste.

    Vegan cheese, on the other hand, may be a more established category but is also yet to reach its full potential. Although there are some good examples of soft cheese equivalents on the market - particularly nut-based options - this subcategory is less restricted by the need to emulate its animal-based counterpart.


    When it comes to hard varieties, however, recreating the required texture remains a key issue. Again, this comes down to differences in functionality.

    Click here to download and read the full article.



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  • Plant-based food revolution

    By Carole Bingley (Technical Specialist Food Innovation), Mark Auty (Food Microstructure Leader) and Fred Gates (Associate Principal Scientist).

    Soaring demand for plant-based foods is a major opportunity for manufacturers, but creating an appealing texture remains a challenge. Here, three senior members of the R&D team at Reading Scientific Services Ltd (RSSL), explain why understanding the physical and microstructural properties of food plays a vital role in successful product development.

    More people than ever before are choosing to adopt a flexitarian diet and it seems not even a pandemic can slow the trend’s upward trajectory. In fact, a new survey by The Vegan Society found that one-in-five UK consumers reduced their meat consumption during lockdown, while 15% chose to cut down on egg and/or dairy intake.

    Such is the continued demand, that plant-based food is recognised as one of the fastest growing categories in the food industry today.

    But while the move into the mainstream signals exciting opportunities for product development, meeting consumer expectations in terms of taste and texture is not straightforward - particularly when it comes to meat analogue products.

    Replicating the complex textural properties of meat products in plant-based equivalents is the main goal for manufacturers seeking to attract - and retain - the highly influential flexitarian audience. But meat is composed of skeletal muscle, fat and connective tissue, which all form a complex hierarchical structure.

    So creating similar characteristics in a meat-free option not only requires a detailed understanding of the different parameters associated with meat textures but also the ability to quantify and translate the results into outcomes, which can then be used to create a similar eating experience in meat analogues.

    Originally published by Chemistry World in December 2020. Click here to read the full article.



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  • Getting to grips with texture in vegan product development

    By Fred Gates, RSSL's Associate Principal Scientist.

    One of the biggest challenges in developing plant-based foods is creating an appealing texture. Navigating this complex area requires a detailed understanding of the structural properties and composition of food formulations. The process begins with the right vocabulary, as Fred Gates, associate principal scientist at Reading Scientific Services Ltd. (RSSL), explains.

    Talking texture

    Although it is common knowledge (and sense) that the texture of food is integral to the experience of eating, it’s not a straightforward concept. Texture encompasses many different sensorial qualities and is evaluated from the moment the product is first handled through to when it is chewed and swallowed.

    Texture evolves in the mouth, from the first bite, through the chewing action and mixing with saliva. Understanding how a product needs to behave to secure consumer acceptance and appeal is an essential part of the development process.

    To complicate matters further, the words commonly used to describe the texture of foods are often fluid and imprecise. A “hard” apple is not the same as “hard” cheese. Equally, the connotations of a “chewy” steak are very different to those related to a “chewy” meat-free sausage. That’s why it is vital that every project starts with a clearly defined framework of textural terms that can be referred to throughout the process.

    This important initial stage is often driven by the brand owner’s vision of the product to be created.
    It often involves RSSL’s R&D team working closely with a sensory panel to map and define what “good” looks like, make comparisons, and/or identify what is lacking.

    The sensory result is a graphic interpretation of the desired textural characteristics at every stage of the eating process. This then allows the physical scientists to develop the most appropriate methodology to quantify the relevant texture parameters, rather than describing them qualitatively.

    This vocabulary and corresponding numerical framework provide a solid foundation against which to measure the desired qualities going forward. It also has fundamental implications in terms of which ingredients are used to formulate the product concept.

    Importance of ingredients

    The way a product transforms as it is eaten depends on two factors - its composition and the processes used to generate the structure. That’s why, for example, although two products may have the same fat content, one can deliver much richer textural qualities because it has been formulated to release bursts of fat into the mouth as it is chewed.

    Originally published by Food Navigator in January 2021. Click here to read the full article.



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  • Making Vegan Claims - Key Considerations

    By Jessica Sage, RSSL's Food Safety and Quality Consultant

    Veganism is on the rise and continues to grow in popularity year on year. As consumers understand more about how their food is made, their expectations for transparency in food labelling have also grown, meaning that there is increased focus on those making vegan claims to be able to substantiate them. Understanding of the supply chain coupled with a robust risk assessment are key in being able to do this.

    Many factors are contributing to the growth of veganism, including environmental concerns, health and wellness and ethical considerations around animal welfare.
    Social media has also had a part to play, and as consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about the workings of the food industry, their expectations around the information provided to them from the food industry has shifted as we see more emphasis placed on the importance of living sustainably and understanding what goes into our food.

    This increased call for transparency about where our food comes from, coupled with the growth of the vegan food market, means it is little surprise that manufacturers making vegan claims have come under a lot of scrutiny in recent years.

    An example of this was seen when one retailer took the decision to provide precautionary allergen labels on their vegan products for allergens that are derived from animals, such as milk and egg.
    The argument has remained however, that making a vegan claim is not the same as making an allergen 'free-from' claim, and therefore it should not be interpreted in the same way.


    This is still a relatively contentious issue that there is no clear answer on today, in part due to the fact that there is still no legal definition for the term 'vegan' in reference to food products. Businesses therefore need to decide for themselves what the terms mean. Some are electing to treat the claim in the same way as a 'free-from' claim, while others continue to adopt an approach allowing 'may contain' labelling to be used.

    Click here to download and read the full article.



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  • The Challenges around testing to Substantiate a vegan claim

    By Jessica Sage, RSSL's Food Safety and Quality Consultant

    The food industry has seen a huge rise in demand for vegan products, and has very quickly responded to this with large scale investment in innovation. However, substantiating these claims using analytical testing remains a challenge.

    Having robust controls around the manufacturing of vegan products and a thorough understanding of the supply chain are essential when it comes to substantiation of vegan claims. Some businesses are opting to use analytical testing as a tool for the collection of evidence to demonstrate that the controls they have in place are effective, however testing options are not always available, or when they are, they aren't always clear cut in the information they provide.

    Therefore it is important that testing is undertaken using a laboratory that is able to advise on what is appropriate and what the results mean.

    In some cases, the food or ingredient producer will know where any risk of contamination from animal-derived material is coming from, and so can opt for a targeted analytical approach. If, as an example, there is a known contamination risk of pork from a product made on the same line, the recommendation would be to analyse the vegan product for the presence of pork DNA, using a targeted PCR method.
    This should provide an indication of whether any contamination is occurring.

    The risks of contamination are not always so clear cut however, and this can represent a challenge to manufacturers.

    Having knowledge of what your suppliers are handling at their sites and understanding from them where the risks might be, as well as a thoroughly risk assessing your own facility should provide some insight.

    This information could then be coupled with a non-targeted testing approach, to screen for the presence of DNA from multiple species.

    Click here to download and read the full article.



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  • Vegan Food and Drink Manufacturing Considerations

    By Jessica Sage, RSSL's Food Safety and Quality Consultant

    More people than ever before are eating vegetarian and vegan products, resulting in significant market growth over recent years. This increased demand is driven by a combination of factors from perceived health benefits to environmental and ethical concerns. Social media has also played a key role in popularising this trend; helping to raise awareness of campaigns, such as ‘veganuary’, as well as providing a platform for sharing knowledge and opinions on the production of animal-derived foods.

    Food manufacturers are racing to make the most of this opportunity. Product developers are reacting quickly with a raft of innovative vegetarian and vegan options appearing on-shelf across categories; from dairy alternatives to headline grabbing meat substitutes aimed at a discerning flexitarian audience.

    Yet, amid this flurry of activity, questions are being raised around what a ‘vegan’ claim actually means and how such on-pack labelling can be substantiated. There is currently no legal definition for the term ‘vegan’ and, without this framework, industry and consumers are interpreting the term in their own (sometimes very different) ways.

    Making a vegan claim is not as simple as avoiding animal derived materials. Fundamentally, the production process should in no way involve the use of animals, either through farming or anything that could be interpreted as exploitation. Clearly, this includes animals that have been kept for farming purposes, but it also encompasses ingredients such as honey from bees.

    Equally, some avocados are not considered vegan because of the way their plants have been pollinated using ‘slave’ bees; so-called because they have been purposefully moved from one area to another by avocado farmers for the sole purpose of having the bees pollinate the plants.

    There are many sources that can provide guidance around what can be considered a vegan product or ingredient, such as the Vegan Society, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and also specific retailer codes of practice, however there is currently no legally-defined list anywhere of what materials can and can’t be used in the production of vegan products.

    Click here to download and read the full White Paper.



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  • Vegan food production: Avoiding the potential pitfalls

    By Food Manufacture with insight from Barbara Hirst, RSSL's Senior Food Safety and Quality Consultant

    Growing focus on health and wellness, combined with increased concern for the environment have prompted a surge in consumer adoption of vegetarian, vegan and flexitarian diets in the past few years. Younger consumers, in particular, are investing in a more plant-based diet in a bid to preserve the planet’s resources and reduce global warming.

    According to research from Eating Better, in 2020, 16% of ready meals in the UK were plant-based, rising from just 3% in 2018​. Meanwhile, the UK meat-free market is estimated to grow to a value of £658m in 20212​, up from £559m just four years ago.

    Given this huge growth in the market, it might come as a surprise to some that there is no legal definition of the term ‘vegan’, either at UK or EU level. Industry bodies, retailers and manufacturers are able to decide for themselves what the term means, and this has led to some variation across the industry, and in some cases, has sparked controversy.

    The Vegan Society in the UK defines veganism as “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose”.

    The Society recognises that there are challenges associated with manufacturing foods and guaranteeing complete absence of animal-derived material, so they allow the use of precautionary labelling to communicate where there is a risk of unintentional presence of animal-derived allergens such as milk or egg.

    The UK’s Food and Drink Federation (FDF) also recognises this challenge and has emphasised the importance of educating consumers that they should not rely on a vegan claim as being safe for them if they have allergies to milk, fish, crustaceans, molluscs and/or eggs.

    Originally published by Food Manufacture in January 2021. Click here to read the full article.



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  • The Challenges of Vegan Manufacturing and Claim Substantiation

    With Barbara Hirst, RSSL's Senior Food Safety and Quality Consultant

    Despite the continuing growth of the plant-based sector, there remains no legal definition of the term "vegan" in the UK or Europe. This can understandably introduce challenges for manufacturers, particularly when labeling products. This issue becomes even more important when consumers use vegan claims on packaging as an allergy guide.

    In this video, RSSL's Barbara Hirst talks through the issues and challenges that surround vegan labelled products and what can be done to overcome them.




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  • The Development of Plant Based Products

    With Carole Bingley, RSSL's Technical Specialist Food Innovation

    With an increasing number of consumers adopting a flexitarian diet, plant based meat alternatives are steadily becoming more popular. To meet this demand, the food industry is developing more products using vegan proteins that replicate the taste, texture and nutrition of meat.

    In this video, RSSL's Carole Bingley discusses nutrition, plant based ingredients and the attributes that consumers are coming to expect from meat alternatives.




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  • The Texture of Vegan Food

    With Fred Gates, RSSL's Associate Principal Scientist

    Texture is one of the most important aspects of a product and needs to be carefully considered when creating plant based meat alternatives. Identifying what textures the consumer likes and how these can be achieved is key to developing a product that will have mass appeal.

    In this video, RSSL's Fred Gates talks us through the considerations made when trying to replicate meat textures in vegan proteins and how innovation through science can help achieve positive results.




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