The Plant Based Revolution Rolls On

16 September 2020 — Interest in plant-based eating has been developing for some time, moving from its disruptor status highlighted by Innova Market Insights in its Top Trends for 2017 to more of a food revolution positioning in its Top Trends for 2020.

Innova’s Plant Based Revolution trend profiles this development as plant-based innovation in foods, beverages and ingredients continues to flourish as a result of consumer interest in health, sustainability and ethics. This also ties into the broader consumer lifestyle trend towards cleaner living.  As a result, the food industry is taking up the challenge to deliver an increased amount, and a greater variety of, clean label meat and dairy alternatives with improved nutritional profiles.

Plant-based claims for food and beverages launches are experiencing strong growth globally with a CAGR of 57% over the 2015 to 2019 period, compared with 13% for vegetarian claims and 22% for vegan positionings. Meanwhile, a 2019 Innova Market Insights Consumer Survey indicated that 58% of global consumers prefer plant-based claims when buying alternatives to meat and/or dairy.

Fast food restaurants have been a large contributor to this transformation, adding plant-based meat sandwiches, such as Impossible Foods Impossible Burger and Beyond Meats’ Beyond Burger to their menus and making them mainstream news. Retail brands launched in the wake of this include Raised and Rooted from Tyson Foods and the Incogmeato line of meat alternatives from Kellogg’s Morningstar operation.

At the same time, major dairy brands are also going non-dairy, with launches such as Chobani Oat oat-based milks and yogurts from the US Greek yogurt specialist, and plant-based soy variants in Danone’s Activia probiotic range.

Key challenges for plant-based include the provision of clean label and sustainable options, targeting ingredient simplicity, the use of minimal processing and optimization of taste and textural experiences. Ingredient simplicity and minimal processing are particularly important to consumers, achieved via the absence of artificial components and the use of just a few simple plant-based ingredients.

Looking forward, a variety of alternatives is expected to disrupt the segment further using a wider variety of ingredients. It has also been suggested that there are opportunities for plant + animal protein blends, mixing whey and vegetable protein in sports nutrition products, for example, or dairy and plant milks for beverages, or meat and vegetable components for burgers. An Innova Market Insights Consumer Survey indicated that 35% of consumers would prefer a mix of plant and animal products, while 22% would prefer 100% plant-based options.

Laboratory grown foods (otherwise known as lab-grown or cultured meat, poultry and seafood) are also a potential way forward for more sustainable farming, with the term ‘labriculture’ entering popular nomenclature in reference to slaughter-free technologies of cellular agriculture, cited as an avenue for sustainable meat consumption.  Dairy proteins produced through fermentation, rather than by cows, are also starting to appear, while the potential for air-based foods, made from air and electricity, is also under investigation.

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