Vegetarian, vegan, and flexitarian: new food trends demand innovative solutions

When IKEA decides to offer a vegetarian alternative to the iconic Swedish meatballs, it is evident that the vegetarian trend is entering our everyday life. And an increasing number of people reduce their meat consumption due to concerns about the environment, animal welfare, or health. This leads to a demand for innovation in the food industry. Linde has a vital role in developing new solutions for production, increased shelf life, and less food waste.

In the past couple of years, the impact of the meat- and dairy industry on the environment has received more attention. Globally, the farming industry generates 14.5% of all greenhouse gases, consumes 70% of available freshwater, and occupies almost 40% of the world’s land mass1.  On top of this, the industrialised food culture has led to more overweight than malnourished people on earth.

This has led to a shift towards making healthier choices; An increasing number of consumers are starting to look to other alternatives than meat, choosing a vegetarian alternative. And of course, there’s also many who regard themselves as so-called “flexitarians”.

Healthy vegetarian alternatives

According to a survey conducted by Allied Market Research, published at FoodNavigator, the consumption of alternative proteins (other than fish and meat), is predicted to increase by 8.4 percent from 2017 to the end of 2020. Choosing a vegetarian alternative has been normalized, and is no longer perceived as a diet for those with “special interests”. After producers such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger entered the arena, meat-lovers got the taste for plant-based alternatives. Several food producers are monitoring the development closely, and are testing new concepts.

Gases crucial to freshness, longer shelf life, and less food waste

The food industry is facing new requirements due to the vegetarian trend. Vegetarian and vegan food is all about freshness, taste, and consistency, but also preservation during transportation, cooling, and freezing.

“Food production is energy- and resource-intensive. Aiming to reduce our climate footprint, we must reduce our food waste. Linde’s food-grade gases help maintain high food quality and extend shelf life. The gases are used for cooling, freezing, and packing in a modified atmosphere,” explains Frank Austad, Head of Food Industries at Linde.

Gases are instrumental in food production. In order to preserve vitamins and longevity, freshness and nutrition, cryogenic freezing in freezers and refrigerators with temperature control systems is crucial. This also applies to food-packaging that depends on gas-mixes of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and oxygen, to preserve freshness, prolong shelf life, and food waste reduction.

“Many people are concerned about vitamin degradation and loss of nutrients in fresh foods. The vitamin- and nutrient content of fresh vegetables is reduced during storage. According to research, however, frozen products are full of nutrients. Provided that they are frozen while they are still fresh, and by using an optimal freezing solution, you can ensure quality, prolong shelf life and nutrient content,” says Austad.

Price and demand

We will probably see a lot of new and exciting products in the years to come. However, in some countries there are still challenges with a narrow selection and a high price range.

“There are currently only a few producers of vegetarian dishes in Norway”, says Austad. “Our clients say they get a good response from their customers on vegetarian products when it comes to both taste and quality, but the price is still a big factor. It has to be affordable and not too expensive. In cases where the vegetarian product costs the same or is more expensive than the meat alternative, the final choice often is the meat variant”, he believes.

Global vegetarian numbers

It is believed that 8 % of the global population are vegetarians, and the number of products in this segment are increasing:

  • In India, approximately 38% are vegetarians, as this is a natural part of their diet.
  • Italy has approximately 10% vegetarians.
  • Israel 13% and Taiwan 12% say they had a diet that could be considered vegetarian (2016)
  • Germany, Austria, and Great Britain follow with 9%.
  • Australia (5%) and Ireland (6%)
  • Only 1.6% in Portugal consider themselves vegetarians (2017).
(Source: WorldAtlas.com)

Are you familiar with the terms?

Vegan
Vegans only eat plant foods. The food cannot be processed or prepared using animal products. A vegan diet is often part of a unified lifestyle and philosophy, where you can’t use products derived from animals, including leather, fur, wool, and silk. A subgroup includes raw vegans, who eat vegetable raw foods. This means that the food is not heated above 48 degrees, to prevent the food from losing nutrients. They also strive to eat the food in as natural form as possible.

Vegetarian
Vegetarians don’t eat meat, fish, or poultry. Eggs and / or dairy products can be part of a vegetarian diet, depending on whether you are a lacto-vegetarian (can eat dairy products), ovo-vegetarian (can eat eggs), or lacto-ovo-vegetarian (can eat dairy and egg products).

Pescatarian
Pescatarians do not eat meat but eat both fish, eggs, and dairy products. They hold a Pescatarian diet and are referred to as Pescatarians.

Flexitarians
A more casual approach to vegetarianism. A concept such as “meat-free Monday” has contributed to more and more of us opting to not eat meat – as well as fish, milk, and eggs – occasionally or as often as possible. “Flexitarians” was also named one of the new words of the year in 2016.

Gases are crucial for the quality and freshness of food

  • Without CO2 – no bubbles in beer, soft drinks, and carbonated water.
  • Cryo-freezing with nitrogen and carbon dioxide ensures the rapid cooling of fresh foods so that nutrients are preserved.
  • Gas mixtures with nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and oxygen keep the food fresh in the packaging, so-called modified atmosphere (MAP).
  • Gases are used for freezers and refrigerators for temperature control.
  • Carbon dioxide in greenhouses makes fruit and vegetables thrive even better.
  • Cryogenic gases such as liquid nitrogen and liquid carbon dioxide provide fresh food during transport.


Sources:

1 https://www.ey.com/en_bh/disruption/why-your-next-big-bet-should-be-in-food-innovation
2 Smakmagasinet, matprat.no, språkrådet, hepla.no, vegansamfunnet.no, veg-veg.no, Wikipedia, Healthline.com, Foodinsight.org

Text: Ingalill Sandal, Knut Narvestad, Unni Bekkevold

Photo: Shutterstock

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