Swiss multinational food and beverage giant Nestlé believes that the future of “reviving” pre-prepared dishes and cooking aides lies in going plant-based, citing the rapid growth in popularity of its meat-free products in the past year. The conglomerate plans to ride on the plant-based trend to launch even more vegan and vegetarian items across its established brands and product lines, from the frozen category to chilled meals and seasonings.
Nestlé, the largest food company in the world, has just revealed that they will be ramping up innovation around plant-based products, especially in the ready-made meals category. In a conference discussing the company’s financial performance in the past year, Nestlé CEO Mark Schneider said that sales of plant-based products grew faster than ever before, which presents a massive market opportunity to tap into.
“One of the significant products that people talked about [was] the plant-based burgers…those fantastic products [took] good share in the market,” Schneider said. He added that Nestlé capitalised on the spike in consumer interest in plant-based products by rapidly innovating new meat-free offerings, which is “why we didn’t miss much of a beat…We continue to be very, very much invested in that race.”
Acknowledging that the interest and demand for plant-based is going nowhere, Schneider stressed that Nestlé should plan for more plant-based innovation in the future. “Here is something that is way beyond just a short term trend and rather something that does have runway in it,” he said.
One key area of meat-free innovation the F&B giant plans to “gain credibility” on is different types of plant-based meats. This means going beyond plant-based burgers and launching substitutes for everything from chicken analogues such as nuggets and fillets to vegan versions of tuna salad and bacon. Nestlé is also exploring ways to apply plant-based to its established frozen and pre-prepared meals categories, from ready-made vegan pizzas to plant-based chilled lasagne and meat-free seasonings.
For the world’s biggest F&B corporation to actively pursue plant-based innovation is a key sign that companies can no longer afford to ignore the demand for vegan options, driven by increasingly health and environmentally conscious consumers. Indeed, the plant-based market opportunity is not one to be missed – according to Euromonitor International, the vegan meat substitute market is set to hit US$15.8 billion this year in Asia alone.
A number of big FMCG names have already debuted their own plant-based offerings or partnered up with vegan food techs, from Burger King launching an Impossible Burger to McDonald’s Canada piloting Beyond Meat. Most recently, Taco Bell in China showcased an Omnipork taco, and Taiwan’s largest quick-service restaurant chain (QSR) Bafang Yunji is dishing out 1 million Omnipork dumplings every week.
With mainstream vendors on board, vegan food will no longer remain a niché in restaurant chains or supermarket aisles. Plant-based food is on the trajectory towards accessibility and affordability, which will ultimately drive much needed change among mass audiences, especially given that consumers remain swayed by price rather than moral persuasion. It will also help assist the growing numbers of shoppers who want to prioritise sustainable living, but have been deterred by costs.
Ultimately, particularly as corporations are cashing in on the market opportunity, plant-based is poised to become cheaper and widely available, which will help alleviate our impact on the planet and drive the much-needed shift towards a sustainable food system.
All images courtesy of Nestlé.