Global Race For Plant Food Innovation As Consumer Demand Continues To Skyrocket

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Consumer demand for plant-based proteins has accelerated, and manufacturers are now racing to compete in what is quickly becoming a highly competitive market. There is little sign of slowdown: companies are focused on innovating quality plant-based ingredients to keep up with increasingly healthy and environmentally conscious consumers, backed by the latest scientific research on the benefits of plant-based foods.

According to The Good Food Institute, plant-based food and beverage sales in 2018 exceeded $3.7 billion in the United States alone, indicating a 17% increase from the previous year. Behind this drive is the increasing appetite for plant-based food, due to global awareness about the health and environmental benefits of cutting meat and dairy intake. 

There is good reason why consumers are ditching conventional meat, given that there is mounting research demonstrating how eating more plant-based foods can be good for overall health and longevity. A new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association is the latest piece of evidence suggesting that eating too much meat is harmful to heart health, and could be deadly. The study, which involved over 12,000 people and conducted over 29 years, found that people who consistently eat red meat and refined carbohydrates were more likely to have heart problems and die from heart attack and stroke than people who preferred to eat plants. 

Other studies have propagated the environmental advantages of cutting meat and dairy from our diets. It has been labelled the “single biggest way” to reduce your environmental footprint, with a plethora of research touting how a plant-based diet uses much less water and land and generates a fraction of the carbon emissions associated with animal livestock agriculture and dairy farming. 

With scientific research in hand, consumers are increasingly looking for plant-based alternative products to meat, dairy and egg. In recent years, the sales of these products have shot up in the market. Food-tech startups have even caught the eye of A-list celebrities, such as JAY-Z and Katy Perry, who had their eye on Impossible Foods in the latest round of funding. Impossible Foods, whose Burger King Impossible Whopper test trial was so successful the chain launched the product nationwide, is now valued at a whopping US$ 2 billion.

Beyond Meat’s rise has also been impressive, raising US$ 240 million when the company went public in May and boasting a doubling in share price since. Beyond is also flying with various partnerships with US fast food retailers like Del Taco, A&W in Canada and more recently, announcing they will be trialing plant-based chicken nuggets at KFC.

There’s also JUST, the eggless egg manufacturer, launching in grocery stores everywhere from the US to China

New food-tech startups aside, older well-established food manufacturers have also caught on the trend. The market has seen the appearance of a whole range of new plant-based alternative products, such as vegan burger patties and sausages, dairy-free cheeses and plant-based milks, developed by traditional brands. Kellog Co., for instance, recently debuted their MorningStar Farms Cheezeburger – made of a quarter-pound vegan patty and cheddar “cheeze” alternative – that boasts 23 grams of protein per serving. Nestle has also entered the arena with its 100% plant-based Awesome Burger, developed for the European market, and its upcoming Incredible Burger, sold under the Sweet Earth brand, for US consumers.

As the market becomes increasingly crowded, consumers are getting pickier about the source and quality of ingredients too. In addition to looking out for protein content, people are becoming more aware of the overall nutritional profile and ethical standards of manufacturers, according to consumer research led by Cargill, Minneapolis (yes, that Cargill!). Companies are therefore vying to develop their ingredients to the highest quality to try and match the texture, taste and nutritional demands of consumers. Ingredient suppliers are widening their portfolios, from pea protein isolates that can be used in drinks and sports bars, to soy and wheat proteins in meat substitutes, to corn protein that can be applied in biscuits and cereals. 

Lead image courtesy of Impossible Foods.

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