Special edition: Plant-based confectionery

Tantalizing textures: the new frontiers of plant-based gummies

By Anthony Myers

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: Cargill
Pic: Cargill

Related tags plant-based Dairy alternatives vegan Chocolate

Across Europe, there is a palpable enthusiasm for plant-based gummies, reflecting a growing consumer interest in perceived health-promoting and more sustainable products; we speak to Quentin Schotte, Convenience and Snacking Manager for Cargill Food Solutions Europe, to find out more ...

The surge in demand for plant-based gummies presents a significant opportunity for producers, albeit formidable challenges accompany it.  

Schotte says that liking is mainly achieved at the intersection of texture and flavour in gummies. “While gelatine performs well as a texturizer, it isn’t always the texture of choice. From 2018 to 2023, we have witnessed a 4% decline in new product launches with gelatin (Innova market data 2024). Certain sub-categories, such as gums & jellies, have seen a steeper decline in recent years.

Texture preferences 

To appeal to consumers, producers need to examine their actual texture preferences and link these to texturizers and their properties. Plant-based solutions can outperform each other and even gelatin depending on the region, age, and consumer segment a consumer falls into.

“However,” says Schotte, plant-based texturizers can require new formulations and production methods within gummies.

“Delivering to these technical and sensory needs requires real formulation know-how. Multiple plant-based solutions are available for sweeteners, texturizers, and more, each with its ingredient properties. As plant-based solutions often require different production processes and recipe reformulation, this can add additional complexity to the process.”

Schotte explains that the challenge is further compounded by different opinions on what makes for the right gummy or other sweet treat, and consumers in different countries have highly divergent perspectives on 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,” he says.

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

Sensory profiles

To demonstrate the full range of possibilities, Schotte says Cargill has made prototypes incorporating the most frequently used plant-based texturizers, for example, pectin, starch, and carrageenan, and maximized their properties to clearly differentiate between their properties and sensory profiles.

“Label-friendly pectin, sourced from citrus peels or apple pomace, is quite stable during shelf-life as its high melting point prevents sticking or melting. For this specific prototype, we preferred to use a high-methoxyl pectin from our UniPECTINE range, which works well for confectionery, providing great texture and flavor release, especially in jellies & gummies, he says,

Schotte also reveals that Carrageenan, extracted from red seaweeds, is suitable for less acidic mediums than pectin.

“Thanks to its nature, various textures can be created, from very soft and elastic to firm and brittle. We chose a special blend with an elastic texture that allows for strawberry flavour with good gelation.”

He says starch might sound like a more complex ingredient from a production perspective, “but for us, it was easier to deposit the cooked mass formulated with our modified gelling starches, selected from C*Set and C*Clearset range thanks to their lower hot viscosity. The low setting temperatures of these starches gave us the necessary maneuver time to optimize the flavor profile of the gummies.

“We also tried to offer further differentiation by blending some of these ingredients (done in two options: starch/pectin and starch/carrageenan). The biggest challenge was balancing the different texturizers with divergent dissolving properties. This required some further attention from a production perspective. However, the results were worthwhile.”

“The fact that we were able to create six different prototypes (including the gelatin-based reference) using such a broad range of formulations shows how our applications expertise enables us to support our customers with tailor-made solutions.”

Schotte says that beyond product offerings, Cargill's commitment to sensory research and market insights enriches product development so that plant-based confectionery can resonate with consumers' diverse tastes and preferences.

“By understanding the intricate interplay of texture and flavour dynamics, Cargill empowers producers to help create treats that captivate the senses while aiming to meet the demands of a health-conscious market,” he remarks.

  • Source: Texturizers in gummy application sensory and U&A consumer research, January 2024
  • Source: Texturizers in gummy application sensory and U&A consumer research, January 2024

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