Products made using green proteins have an increasing presence in stores, but often look suspiciously like meat. The food industry is missing opportunities, says food designer Katja Gruijters: “Vegetable proteins have so much more to offer.”
“New products often come onto the market in the form of a successful existing product,” says the food designer. The iconic hamburger was the model for the first meat substitute, roughly twenty years ago. Later, came spreads, meatballs and other products, all inspired by meat. “Maybe a smart move commercially, but not very creative,” says Gruijters.
This tactic also leads many consumers to regard products with vegetable proteins as good or, perhaps, not-so-good copies of meat. Many of these products are also found at the meat counter – right beside chicken thighs, tartar and salami. “This sells green proteins short, because there is so much more you can do with them.”
It could be different, according to the food designer. “Falafel – which began life as a meat substitute during times of fasting, has developed a strong identity in the Middle East; consumers can buy it at many different places – including the supermarket – together with pita and fresh vegetables”, she says. “The same goes for panir in India, and tofu in countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and Japan.”
In the far East, for example, many variations of tofu are available for different dishes. “Firm tofu for Gadu Gadu, regular tofu for soups, and soft silken tofu for salads and desserts”, illustrates the food designer. “In most Dutch supermarkets only firm tofu is available, and consumers often do not know how to prepare it correctly.”
Green proteins can also develop their own identity, but this needs a real change of direction. “It is time manufacturers and retailers gave more space to innovation and creativity,” emphasizes Gruijters. “This is a joint challenge; one where they can take their inspiration from other cultures and from the sources of their raw materials.” At the moment, according to the food designer, consumers are uncertain from what, exactly, these meat replacers are made.
There are countless ingredients that, in processed or unprocessed form, can serve as vegetable protein. “But it still has limited availability in the store, or consumers do not know what to do with it,” says food designer Katja Gruijters. “Think, for example, of fresh seaweed, beans – that far too often are eaten with meat – mushrooms, and water lentils.” Apart from different ingredients, there is great variation in color, shape and meal times. “Soup or salad with green proteins? Why not?”
Gruijters is convinced that green proteins can grow into an iconic product, with their own instore display.
About Food Designer Katja Gruijters
Katja Gruijters is first and foremost a food designer. Already, while studying at the Design Academy, food was her way of communicating visually. In 1998 she graduated with a fictitious line of “Meat-replacing products that do not resemble meat”. Gruijters now creates and develops original food concepts for companies in the food industry, retail and food service. Last year, her book, Food Design: exploring the future of food, was published, with a chapter about proteins.