As the demand for plant-based foods continues to surge, Nestlé says it will step up innovation and begin to launch more plant-based products in the next few weeks. Since the beginning of this year, the Swiss food giant has made clear its intentions to aggressively pursue innovation in vegan and vegetarian categories, but it has now renewed its ambitions to tap into this fast-growing market.
“The interest in plant-based alternatives has been on the rise for a number of reasons,” Nestlé CEO Mark Schneider told Reuters in a recent interview. Schneider cited the “renewed” awareness of health and problems in the meat supply chain amid the pandemic as key drivers of the surging popularity of plant-based foods.
Earlier this year, meat plants all over the world faced closures after widespread outbreaks of the coronavirus, with some of the biggest supply chain disruptions seen in the U.S., though Brazil and European producers such as Germany also faced major clusters.
It has sent consumers in search of alternatives, with vegan meat purchases skyrocketing by 280% in some cases at the height of the pandemic and shoppers in traditionally meat-loving countries increasingly identifying themselves as “flexitarian”.
Just last month, the Swiss multinational reported record 40% growth in its plant-based category within the first half of 2020, while other product sectors saw a decline in sales amid the economic fallout.
Schneider made his comments at the inauguration of Nestlé’s new R&D Accelerator in Konolfingen near Bern, Switzerland, where students and startups will be looking into novel ways to produce dairy alternatives.
“We want to lead in many of the segments and we’ll go as far as the market will take us,” the Nestlé chief said, adding that the company is ramping up innovation in a number of categories, from chocolate to ice cream, as well as plant-based meats, of which he expects prices to fall dramatically over time. Upcoming product launches include a plant-based Nesquik milk drink and a new iteration of its vegan burger.
At the start of the year, the Swiss multinational has made clear its intentions to aggressively pursue the plant-based market, stating that it hopes to launch vegan items across all its established brands, lines and categories, and that it believes plant-based is the key to “reviving” some of its older stagnant products.
It recently made headlines for its latest US$103 million investment injection into China, which was widely advertised to be used to set up a plant-based food factory in the country. However, upon further investigation by Green Queen, a large share of the investment will be split to help boost the company’s existing unsustainable dairy snack production and ramp up its pet food line, casting doubt on the authenticity of the firm’s plant-based commitments.
Nevertheless, the company has of late rolled out more plant-based products, including a dairy-free version of its classic Carnation canned condensed milk, which hit consumer shelves in the U.K. earlier last month. It has also made its first foray into the alternative seafood market with its new plant-based tuna launched under its European-facing brand Garden Gourmet.
Other FMCG giants have too made strides in tapping into the plant-based market. In a recent report published by FAIRR, nearly half of the world’s biggest food retailers and manufacturers now have dedicated plant-based teams focused on creating new vegan-friendly products. Tesco and Unilever ranked the highest in terms of its commitment to shifting its portfolio towards plant-based, according to the analysis.
Lead image courtesy of Nestlé / Garden Gourmet.