BOSTON — Motif FoodWorks, an animal-free ingredient innovation company, announced Dec. 11 a partnership with The University of Queensland (UQ) in Brisbane, Australia, to test and identify new formulations to improve the texture of plant-based meat products through in vitro processing. The research will drive critical innovation in Motif's product pipeline of animal-free ingredients.
Texture represents one of the biggest sensory gaps between current plant-based meat and their animal-derived counterparts, and the most significant challenge facing brands hoping to win over consumers in today's crowded market. The partnership with UQ will arm Motif with insights they can apply to their ingredient discovery process and in turn, help their customers build better products that meet the texture expectations of consumers.
Motif's food science lead, Stefan Baier, will be leading the three-year initiative internally; Baier has nearly two decades of experience in the research and foundational science of food and beverage solutions. He will lead a team of Motif food scientists in partnership with top academics in food oral processing and sensory evaluation at UQ: Professor Jason Stokes, Director of Research at the School of Chemical Engineering and Dr. Heather Smyth, a Senior Research Fellow with the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation.
This partnership represents the first time in vitro oral processing will be applied in the category of meat analogs. "Typically, when formulating new products, food scientists rely solely on in vivo testing, depending on trained sensory panelists to tell them how well a new product simulates the traditional version," said Baier. "This process can be expensive, time-consuming and often subjective, since perceptions can vary based on factors like a person's saliva flow rate and composition."
"The University of Queensland's research in oral processing and sensory evaluation is unparalleled, and our work together will provide direct benefit to our customers and to consumers looking for better plant-based options," said Mike Leonard, CTO at Motif FoodWorks. "Getting texture right in plant-based foods is critical to consumer acceptance and ultimately, a factor that will set category leaders apart. It is Motif's mission to help our customers close the deltas between their products and the animal-derived experiences consumers love, and we believe the team at UQ will help us get there."
Prof. Stokes has been pioneering the in-vitro assessment of food oral processing for the last two decades, and together with Dr. Smyth, has developed critical new methods to assess the mouthfeel qualities of foods and link these back to sensory perception. Their expertise will supplement Motif's work in formulating ingredients that improve specific aspects of plant-based meat analogs.
"Positive textural experiences are critical to sensory enjoyment and consumer product choice," said Dr. Smyth. "As we understand more about the complexity of food texture and mouthfeel, we realize how important it is to take a fundamental approach in designing new food products."
"Oral processing is an essential driver behind the consumer acceptance of food," said Stokes. "By focusing on the physics, rather than the opinion of the chewer, we can get a more accurate and universal read of what makes food enjoyable to eat. Our work with the Motif team will enable them to translate that knowledge for the production of better, more texturally similar meat analogs moving forward."