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Author: Amy Buxton

What’s Trending In Plant-Based? Seafood Growth, Fast Food Availability, Ingredient Innovations and More.

As the plant-based food sector settles into a groove after the 2019-2020 sector boom, the landscape of meat-free manufacturing has changed.

Once dominated by beef and chicken analogues, the plant-based industry is seemingly moving towards less conventional products, experimenting with advanced technology, and gaining more governmental support than ever before. The result will, hopefully, be a varied menu for global diners–including flexitarians and curious omnivores–that supports a shift towards a more sustainable food system.

Building on trends observed this year, 2024 and beyond look set to witness the following within the meat-free market.

Plant-based seafood will continue to boom

The fastest-growing plant-based food niche in 2022-2023 is alternative seafood. Current predictions state that the global market is expected to reach a value of $2.9 billion by 2025, representing a CAGR of 23.5% between 2020 and 2025.

Selfish Cow

Reasons for the boom in seafood analogues are varied but are thought to mainly pivot around growing ethical concerns about the impact of commercial fishing, health concerns stemming from fish consumption, and the consumer uptick in seafood-heavy regions, such as Asia.

In addition, plant-based seafood products are becoming more sophisticated than ever, allowing businesses to target a wider gamut of consumers. These include sashimi connoisseurs, who can now swap out unsustainable tuna and salmon for ultra-realistic fish-free alternatives that have been classified as sushi-grade.

Refined dairy analogues

Plant-based dairy has seen steady growth in recent years, with sales increasing by 19% between 2020-22 alone. Now, the sector could be gearing up for even bigger expansion thanks to a number of major players looking to advanced technology to create the most dairy-like products possible.

Focussed on replicating the taste, texture, and nutritional values of conventional dairy, outfits such as the US’ Perfect Day, Israel’s Imagindairy, and Mighty in the UK are using precision fermentation to progress their product lines. The process allows dairy-specific proteins and enzymes to be replicated without the use of animals. These can then be used to create more faithful reproductions of various dairy lines–including yogurt and cheese.

As the technology becomes more widely available and cost-effective, it is likely that more alternative dairy companies will invest, leading to a widespread and general improvement in the quality of plant-based products.

Increased plant-based fast-food options

The fast-food industry is expected to place a higher importance on sustainability initiatives, as consumers have made it known that such factors affect their buying habits. Alongside chains looking to switch their packaging options to less impactful alternatives, plant-based menu items are likely to increase in number and availability.

Global QSR leaders–including McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC–have already experimented with meat-free menu items, with most adding at least one to the permanent menu. However, as consumer demand for plant-based options increases, it stands to reason that more dishes will be added to a bigger selection of restaurants.

Such offerings will likely be the result of collaborations with plant-based meat manufacturers, including Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, The Vegetarian Butcher, and more. Proprietary plant-based meats could be on the horizon as well, as they will allow brands to retain greater control over their recipes and end products. Taco Bell is already exploring this avenue in a bid to stand out from the QSR crowd.

Ingredient innovations 

Plant-based meat has evolved in recent years. Once dominated by soy-based products, the sector is now awash with more realistic options that utilize ingredients such as pea protein, wheat gluten, and jackfruit. In a bid to make ever-more juicy and satisfying bites, manufacturers continue to look for ingredients that will deliver the most realistic meat analogues, with two seemingly taking priority.

Mycelium–the complex root structure of mushrooms–is an up-and-coming star of the plant-based world. Sustainable, healthy and capable of mimicking the texture and taste of meat, manufacturers are excited about the possibilities. Moreover, consumers have already given mycelium products their nod of approval, with limited releases (where the ingredient has been declared safe for human consumption) selling out in record time.

Another focus appears to be the development of suitably umami and juicy plant-based fats to be used in alternative meat products. The Good Food Institute has already spoken out about the importance of fat development, in connection to the continued growth of the plant-based meat sector. Precision fermentation, bespoke emulsions, and fungi are all being experimented with.

Traction into new global markets

Asia, Europe, and the US have all witnessed growing consumer interest in plant-based products. However, the Middle East and Africa are expected to experience a surge in meat-free popularity.

Traditionally, both regions have been meat-centric but are now seeing the potential for explosive growth in the plant-based sector. It was reported last year that the United Arab Emirates has cottoned on to the alternative meat trend and as such, has sought to import popular products from around the world. This will likely continue and increase in the coming year as the Middle East has been shown to be necessarily influenced by global dietary trends, due to the region needing to import around 90% of its food. As plant-based eating becomes more mainstream in food-producing regions–such as the US and Europe–the availability of relevant products will increase and filter out into export trends.

Likewise, Africa is expected to more widely accept and experiment with plant-based products, as a route to food security. Driving the change in tastes are Gen Z and Millennial consumers, both of which are cited as being concerned about personal health and the climate, thereby looking to meat alternatives as a sustainable solution to both. It is likely that appetites will be satiated with both imported and domestically manufactured products, though there is ongoing litigation surrounding the labeling of plant-based items in South Africa specifically. This could impact the availability of lines and therefore, consumer awareness about them.

Government subsidies for plant-based producers

The meat and dairy industries have been subsidized by US and EU governments for decades. Current estimations state that the animal-based industries are in receipt of around 1,000 times more financial support than their plant-based counterparts. In turn, this is actively blocking what experts refer to as a crucial shift towards a more sustainable food system, if we are to avoid total climate catastrophe.

Selfish Cow

To meet net zero targets and fulfill COP pledges, governments around the world will likely need to start showing support for meat and dairy alternatives. Largely proven to produce far fewer emissions than animal-based counterparts in their production, plant-based foods are being touted as a valuable resource in the fight against climate change. As such, they need to be affordable and accessible for as many people as possible, making subsidies necessary. The political landscape also stands to support a shift.

With the US electing a new president in 2024 and the UK holding a general election in 2025, political pledges to support climate action are likely from most candidates and parties, to win support from increasingly environmentally-aware voter bases. This could facilitate greater subsidies for plant-based manufacturers.

The Future of US Foodservice: 5 Key Predictions

The US foodservice industry is facing a period of major transformation and it is set to impact every sector player. Key to this upheaval is the rise of consumers becoming more cognizant of the environmental and ethical impacts of their diets. As such, they are demanding more plant-based and sustainable options, which need to be fulfilled by foodservice companies.

Demonstrably, the foodservice industry is already increasingly incorporating meat and dairy-free options into their menus. However, the sector needs to be prepared for ongoing dietary shifts and growing trends.

A new white paper from the Good Food Institute (GFI) offers a comprehensive overview of the future of foodservice and identifies at least five key trends that are set to irreversibly alter the industry:

Plant-based eating will continue to rise

Plant-based foods are becoming increasingly popular, as consumers seek out healthier and more sustainable options. According to GFI, the plant-based food market is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2030. This ties in with an increasing number of consumers adopting flexitarian, vegan, and plant-based diets.

Overall, global consumers are expected to significantly reduce their meat and dairy intake. This is being encouraged by climate experts, who have previously stated that a shift away from animal agriculture is one of, if not the most significant steps that we can take to reduce climate damage.

Animal agriculture is thought to contribute 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, more than all forms of transportation combined. Breaking this down further, it has been found that meat and dairy account for 57% of all food production emissions. Conversely, plant-based food production is responsible for 29% of all food-related emissions.

Consumers are increasingly aware of how their food choices directly impact the environment, their own health and the wellbeing of animals. This is why all three have been cited as major motivations for people choosing to ditch meat and dairy or at least reduce their intake significantly.

GFI specifically reports that 2022 was a high-performance year and marked a noticeable shift back to pre-pandemic popularity levels for plant-based meats. “U.S. broadline distributor sales of plant-based proteins reached $304 million in 2022, growing 8% from pre-pandemic levels in 2019. Meanwhile, unit sales declined very slightly by 1% over the same period, in line with animal-based meat sales declines,” the report reads.

Growth of fast casual dining will be tangible

Fast casual restaurants offer a more convenient and affordable alternative to traditional sit-down restaurants. They are a valid choice when consumers are pressed for time and they have been shown to be more likely to offer plant-based options than their conventional counterparts.

This presents chains–including QSR giants–with an opportunity to tap into the burgeoning popularity of their dining genre while also catering to a growing market. It is likely that fast casual dining spots will begin to roll out more choices for meat-free eaters and that those who spotlight such consumers will benefit from an increased customer base.

This has already been witnessed as McDonald’s and Burger King vyed to tempt plant-based consumers with their meat-free menu additions in recent years. Where McDonald’s chose to debut the McPlant, and later the Double McPlant, Burger King went further and developed a range of plant-based options including ‘chicken’ sandwiches, nuggets, and signature burgers. As a result, Burger King is deemed the more popular chain and its food, better received.

It’s not just burgers that need to be prioritized though, as GFI confirmed,

“In 2022, products including plant-based chicken, plant-based pork, and plant-based seafood emerged as small but mighty segments, demonstrating that operators are leaning into new product offerings beyond the traditional plant-based burger. Analog products made up 53% of pound sales in plant-based proteins in 2022, up from 39% in 2019,” findings revealed.

Selfish Cow

Delivery and takeout services will need to step up

As consumers become more time-pressed, home-delivery and takeaway food services are continuing to see a boom in popularity. This is therefore creating new opportunities for plant-based foodservice businesses.

One thing to be aware of, however, is the rising cost of plan-based ingredients. The average price per pound of plant-based proteins grew 9% from 2019 to 2022. While this appears concerning, it is vital to note that animal meat prices increased by 26%. As foodservice companies attempt to protect their margins, these increases will necessarily be passed onto consumers, potentially supporting a further shift away from animal protein.

Delivery and takeout services stand to benefit from loyal consumer bases by offering more plant-based choices, guarantees of no cross-contamination in kitchens that are not exclusively meat-free, and showcasing the better value of animal-free menu items. Carbon neutral delivery options will also likely sway purchasers.

The demand for transparency

Consumers are increasingly demanding transparency about the food they eat. This is driving demand for plant-based foods that are made with high-quality ingredients and with traceable footprints.

This has seen some food manufacturers taking steps to print their carbon footprints on their product packaging while foodservice providers have been experimenting with displaying environmental impact information on menus. There’s no denying that this will incur additional costs, at least in the short-term, but conscious consumers are a valuable customer base.

GFI claims that plant-based meat fans make around 30 more trips to foodservice locations every year than their animal protein counterparts. The result is an average extra spend of $400 annually, demonstrating the commercial viability of catering to this specific consumer genre.

As more individuals experiment with plant-based foods and manufacturers produce increasingly indistinguishable meat analogs, foodservice businesses are on the precipice of being able to capitalize on high-value shoppers, while also catering to their dietary and ethical preferences.

The focus on sustainability

The environmental impact of food choices is becoming a driving factor for consumers when choosing between meat and plant-based protein packed foods. GFI estimates that around 10% of all US consumers bought plant-based meat products at a foodservice location in 2022.  However, most only did so just once.

If foodservice companies can marry consumer curiosity with sustainability concerns, through informed marketing and clear labeling, the plant-based meat category would be well positioned to gain a greater foothold within the foodservice sector. It would not be a stretch to assume that consumers would return more than once, creating greater consumer loyalty to brands and outlets.

These five trends are–according to GFI–shaping the future of foodservice. The main takeaway has to be that as the industry continues to evolve, plant-based foods are likely to play an increasingly critical role.

In addition to these main observations the white paper also discusses other factors that are impacting the future of foodservice. These include the rise of food allergies and intolerances, the increasing popularity of ethnic cuisine, and the growing demand for personalized dining experiences. All of these can also be tied to an intrinsic need for greater plant-based provisions across the global–not just US–foodservice sector.

If you are interested in learning more about the future of foodservice, you can find the original white paper here:

4 Vital Steps for a Successful Plant-Based Retail Rollout

US retail sales of plant-based foods alone grew by 6.2% in early 2021, reaching a total market value of $7.4 billion. 2 years on, reports that overall retail sales in plant-based have slowed.

Brands now face new challenges, including increased competition from competitors and retailers alike, who have heavily increased production of own-label products. These challenges have placed extra pressure on retail rollouts to be successful. But what dictates a company’s ability to make a splash in a demanding marketplace?

Read on to find out.

Step 1: Brand identity is everything

A genuine commitment to sustainability and equitable food security are the driving forces behind many independent plant-based brands. Unlike other markets, which are often driven by strategic gap-filling, plant-based manufacturers appear to be frequently motivated–and defined–by their founders’ personal ethics and dietary habits.

These deeply personal investments create a unique value proposition in the plant-based retail space, forming the foundations of a brand identity that will resonate with like-minded consumers. This will prove vital to the success of any retail rollout, as consumers have been found to form an opinion about a brand within just 0.05 seconds, which will impact whether they chose to buy or not.

Selfish Cow

Studies have shown that the chief motivations for consumers choosing plant-based products include animal welfare, personal health and well-being, and environmental stewardship. Any brands that seek to position themselves alongside the same concerns should be able to foster long standing relationships with said buyers.

Case study: Heura Foods.

Founded in 2017, Heura Foods is a Barcelona-based company that has been clear about its mission from day one. The founders, Marc Coloma and Bernat Ananos Martinez, call themselves “agents of change” and seek to create a more sustainable and healthy food system. They draw consumers in by inviting them to become “good rebels” and to join in the fight against meat and dairy-centric nutrition.

Combined with vibrant and cheerful branding and well-conceived product launches, Heura is now thought to be the fastest-growing plant-based operation in Europe.

Step 2: Planning and promotion must be unique

To launch in the plant-based market, thorough planning is essential, but remember that no universal rollout methodology will guarantee visibility and success.

Leveraging accessible and cost-effective consumer insight tools–including Google Analytics and Google Trends–provides valuable information about target consumers and should be utilized early, to shape promotion strategies. This is important as around 65% of a company’s business comes from repeat customers, so gaining insight into what they are looking for and bagging that first purchase could lead to lasting brand loyalty.

The uniqueness of a company is a valuable tool for standing out from competitors and should provide a jumping off point for campaign development. On the flip side, emulating strategies used by others in the sector will likely draw comparisons, which is inadvisable. This is especially pertinent for independents when looking for inspiration at major players, such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.

Engaging promotions, strategically aligned with key calendar dates and supported by effective marketing content, are still considered a recipe for brand awareness success. Playing to the individuality of a company will only further enhance this.

Case study: THIS Isn’t Streaky Bacon

UK plant-based manufacturer THIS chose to unveil its streaky bacon analogue in December 2022, creating buzz ahead of Veganuary 2023. It launched into almost 3,000 supermarkets across the country and was squarely aimed at existing plant-based eaters, flexitarians, Veganuary participants, and vegan bacon naysayers.

The launch was supported by in-store promotions and tongue-in-cheek social posts that tied in with the brand’s wider image. Earlier in the year, THIS released a limited edition bacon-scented perfume, just in time for Valentine’s Day. The stunt saw the fragrance sell out in just 20 minutes and raise the profile of its existing bacon products.

Step 3: Launching online, in-store or both?

Choosing the right launch strategy can make or break a market debut, which means thinking carefully about where to sell products.

For many new plant-based brands, a 100% online retailer offers an ideal platform to gain recognition, test products, and gather feedback. This differs from D2C as online retailers already have the infrastructure to market products and provide sales data, without further investment. In addition, setting up an effective logistics chain can prove costly and difficult for challenger brands that are not experienced in the delivery of products straight to consumers.

Alternatively, brands might look at launching in-store and finding dependable distribution partners. This is crucial to securing a spot in the market, but it is not always easy. Even when a notable partner is confirmed, it offers no guarantee that others will follow nor that the products being supplied will be given good visibility. Responsiveness, flexibility, reliability, and a strong focus on quality control are sought after characteristics of any distribution partner.

A third option is to launch unilaterally; however, this can be costly and requires exemplary organization, including careful stock control and allocation. Launch strategies depend greatly on a brand’s goals, the types of products being manufactured (affecting hope they need to be stored), and budget.

Case study: One Planet Pizza

“When looking for a dependable distributor, lean into your network and your community. Some of our best partnerships have come through word-of-mouth, often a recommendation from another founder over LinkedIn,” Joe Hill, co-founder of One Planet Pizza says. “Let your community know you’re looking and make it very clear what it is you hope to achieve and what type of partner would help you do this.”

Hill is currently trying to interest Waitrose in becoming a distributor, to follow in Asda’s footsteps.

Step 4: Create buy-in from consumers

While becoming increasingly competitive, the plant-based market remains dominated by established brands. This means that challengers must differentiate themselves and carve their own niches to create a loyal customer base or ‘consumer buy-in’.

Alongside an established brand identity, factors such as taste, texture, appearance, affordability, a wide product portfolio, and prepared meals can create consumer buy-in. Companies can align their releases by identifying what consumers want (convenience plus easy access to healthier food choices that will work with their budgets). Once customers feel connected to a brand, they will likely buy into new releases. Data supports this, with findings claiming that 43% of consumers will spend more when they feel loyal to a manufacturer.

Case study: Impossible Foods

Impossible Foods has revealed that it has reduced its wholesale prices by 15%, in order to remain competitive in the market and to be an appealing option to consumers. The move proves that even the major players are not able to rest on their laurels or their 2020 sales booms.

The plant-based food sector is expected to reach over $162 billion in value, by 2030. With such growth will come increased competition for shelf space and visibility. Both established and challenger brands will need to double-down on their unique selling points and tailored consumer engagement to claim market share.

How Can Foodservice Companies Meet the Demand for Plant-Based Options?

Selfish Cow

Research shows that plant-based popularity will continue to rise through 2030 and beyond. To stay ahead of the curve, companies need to consider how they can up their game and the benefits of embracing, not resisting, the call for less meat and dairy.

Continued demand for plant-based foods

It’s no secret that consumers have been increasingly adopting flexitarian and vegan dietary habits. In the majority of cases, these are attributed to a growing environmental awareness or a vested interest in personal health. However, the scale of the plant-based sector’s growth appears to be somewhat underplayed.

Data from Mintel Global New Products Database reveals that growth has not only been consistent but also vast. The research found that, in line with a shift in consumer demand, new meat-free products launched with a clear plant-based message increased by 302% between 2018 and 2022. Moreover, this expansion is predicted to push through to 2030 to make the industry a multi-billion dollar sector.

Alongside environmental and wellbeing motivations, consumers also appear to be swayed by the increasing quality of meat and dairy analogues. In recent years, plant-based meat companies in particular have focussed their efforts on creating the most realistic animal protein mimics possible. Such endeavors have resulted in hyper-realistic whole-cut products launching in mainstream grocery stores around the world, thereby granting consumers easy and affordable access to cutting edge developments. This is a far cry from the days of soy-based meat-like products that bore little resemblance to their animal-based counterparts.

Demand for sustainable food options is demonstrably not in decline. This places the onus of accessibility firmly on foodservice operations, across an array of supply niches. These will include QSR outlets, catering companies that supply businesses, the education sector, and health services, and more.

How foodservice companies can step up to the plate

The foodservice sector needs to find a way to satisfy a range of consumers. It isn’t practical to expect sector leaders to ditch meat and dairy altogether, but likewise, they can’t afford to ignore the call for more options that don’t feature them. As such, there are small but meaningful steps that can be taken.

Offer a variety of plant-based options

Developing and serving more plant-based options will allow consumers to recognize that companies are aware and willing to embrace a shift in dietary demands. While it would be a challenging move to immediately provide equal numbers of meat and meat-free options, slowly tipping the balance is achievable.

Selfish Cow

Global catering giant Sodexo is doing exactly this. Currently, its plant-based menu options make up 36% of its educational supply chain. By 2025, there will be an even 50-50 split between meat and vegan meals.

In the QSR sector, Burger King appears to be leading by example. While competitor McDonald’s stalls with a limited number of plant-based menu items, Burger King has gone so far as to launch fully vegan restaurants and a much larger meat-free menu. Like Sodexo, the fast-food chain aims to be 50% plant-based, but by 2030.

Up the visibility and accessibility of meat-free dishes

Foodservice companies not only need to offer plant-based options, they actively need to promote them. By reinforcing that they are not a specialist alternative but a readily available alternative to conventional menu items, the novelty factor can be negated.

A key step will be labeling foods as vegan or plant-based on menus and highlighting the environmental benefits of them. This has been shown to increase the uptick of such options, even with traditionally meat-eating diners. In addition, meat-free dishes will also need to be included in promotions–such as meal deals– and special events. Tapping into consumers’ desires to be sustainable but not fiscally penalized for being as such is key.

Partner with popular and prolific plant-based food brands

Piggybacking on the success and popularity of an existing plant-based brand is a commercially astute way to garner new customers and meet the growing demand for meat-free foods.

In recent years, there have been a number of key collaborations that have allowed companies to put their best plant-based foot forward. Though McDonald’s has been slower to develop meat-free options, it chose to work with one of the most popular meat mimic companies, Beyond Meat. Likewise, Burger King works with the Vegetarian Butcher to create its meat analogues, which have been deemed indistinguishable from their meat items.

By identifying which brands have garnered their own loyal followings, foodservice outfits can benefit from a readymade consumer base and cross-promotion activities.

Benefits of jumping on the plant-based shift

The upsides of embracing the demand for plant-based foods arguably outweigh any cost needed to do so.

Alongside attracting legions of new customers, businesses can also benefit from positioning themselves as sustainability champion. This issue will only become more important as the climate catastrophe continues to evolve. Additionally, consumers will be impressed and feel ‘seen’ by companies willing to adapt their menus. But it’s not just customer perceptions that stand to improve.

By incorporating more plant-based foods–and subsequently reducing meat and dairy options–foodservice companies can positively alter their operational impact. As pressure grows for the companies to start aligning with net zero ambitions, those that take the leap and actively slash their carbon emissions by reducing the amount of meat and dairy in their supply chain will get a head start.

It would be churlish to ignore the fact that gearing up for a plant-based shift will likely be a costly endeavor for foodservice companies. From training staff to cook with new ingredients to marketing fresh options, there will be significant outlay necessary but the potential benefits are clear to see: more customers and better environmental credentials.

The demand for plant-based foods is growing and as menu items become more sophisticated and satisfying, this will likely only increase. Those companies that can acknowledge and accommodate the major dietary shift that is in progress will be well-positioned for success. Conversely, those who cling to archaic menu development themes will struggle to stay in business.

Culinary Creativity: How Chefs are Leveraging Versatile Plant-Based Ingredients in Foodservice

The plant-based upward trend has filtered through to the foodservice sector, resulting in not only more exclusively plant-based restaurants than ever before but also major chains–such as McDonald’s–seeking to embrace the glut of new plant-based eaters. Naturally, nobody wants to lose out on the burgeoning sustainable food spending trend, meaning the hunt for cost-effective and multi-functional ingredients has become a priority. This rings true for catering providers, as well as established restaurants.

Thanks to the soaring interest and positive reception of plant-based menu items, 60% of foodservice operators now identify plant-based meat as a continuing trend, with many revealing that they plan to significantly increase the number of dishes that feature it. However, meat mimics are not the only ingredient to be gaining traction.

Cost-effective and health-conscious plant-based ingredients

While animal protein dupes are popular, some consumers remain concerned about their impact on health. This is frequently attributed to ingredients such as coconut oil being used generously, to create dairy alternatives or ‘juicy’ meat mimics, alongside high levels of sodium for flavor. While arguably still better than animal meat, such products remain highly processed and therefore do not appeal to consumers who are keen to prioritize their health.

Selfish Cow

For foodservice providers, plant-based meat can also be a costly investment, especially when compared to versatile alternatives such as tofu, jackfruit, falafel mix, and textured vegetable protein (TVP). Due to none of these ingredients seeking to faithfully recreate the look, taste, or feel of meat, their production is significantly cheaper and vastly more sustainable than animal rearing. They also allow chefs to flex their creativity, as most provide a very neutral but protein-packed base for a myriad of different applications.

Plant-based creativity in the kitchen

Plant-based ingredients that aren’t a 1:1 substitution for meat and dairy products have faced skepticism. Tofu is a prime example.

A multi-use and soy-based product, tofu has endured vilification by some Western consumers. Criticism of the protein-rich ingredient often stems from a lack of familiarity with its preparation and while it is a staple in many Asian cuisines, perceptions of blandness prevail in non-Asian countries. However, as awareness grows about tofu’s adaptability and positive environmental impact–when compared to animal protein sources–perceptions are gradually shifting.

Foodservice chefs now have an opportunity to lead the reimagining of tofu and its fellow understated ingredients. Perhaps most excitingly, the increase in demand for plant-based dishes within major educational establishments lays the foundation for a generational shift that will see whole food ingredients no longer being eyed with uncertainty. In years to come, consumers may naturally reach for tofu, jackfruit et al, as they are accustomed to how they taste and what can be done with them.

But just how versatile are they really?

Practical applications of tofu

Soybean curd comes in a variety of firmnesses, allowing it to be used in a range of dishes. From breakfast scrambles to stir-fries, breaded slices and even desserts, tofu can be transformed in almost endless ways. Plus, thanks to its neutral taste, it lends itself to a range of seasoning and cooking styles. For a deeper flavor, pieces can be marinated and for added texture, pressing tofu blocks will result in a ‘meatier’ bite.

Named as one of the 20 cheapest sources of protein, delivering around 17 grams per 100-gram serving of firm product, tofu is an excellent option for foodservice companies looking to reduce their environmental impact without losing profitability.

Jackfruit in place of meat

Jackfruit has found popularity in the foodservice industry as a versatile and sustainable alternative to traditional meat. Its fibrous and meat-like texture makes it a good choice for multiple dishes, including pulled ‘pork’ sandwiches, tacos, curries, and stews. Like tofu, jackfruit’s neutral taste allows it to absorb flavors easily, making it a great option for spicier or more flavor-packed menu items.

Costing around $2 to $3 per pound, jackfruit provides an economical option for businesses looking to increase plant-based options without plumping for processed meat mimics. It does not pack a huge protein punch, bringing around 3 grams per 100-gram serving, but it is a filling ingredient.

Falafel mix as a multi-purpose base

Falafel mix is something of a foodservice staple, particularly for companies seeking to increase their plant-based options. A blend of ground chickpeas, herbs, and spices, the mix offers a versatile foundation for an array of dishes including traditional falafel patties to creative interpretations like falafel bowls, wraps, and salads.

Falafel mix is a low-cost high-protein ingredient commonly containing 12-15 grams of protein per 100-gram serving, making it a satisfying and nutritious choice for those seeking meat alternatives.

TVP as a foodservice MVP

Derived from soybeans, TVP is a dried product that is supplied as chunks or in a minced style. It is traditionally used to replace things such as chicken pieces in stir fry and ground beef in meatballs and chili but has many more applications. Owing to its tasteless profile, it can even be ground into a fine powder and added to things such as oatmeal, to up the protein levels and satiety.

Boasting a long shelf-life and being low cost, TVP is a plant-based powerhouse for the foodservice sector. Most impressively, TVP is 50% protein, meaning that it delivers a huge nutritional benefit to diners for a fraction of the cost of traditional meat.

Freedom to address dietary restrictions

While the cost and sustainability benefits of using versatile whole food plant-based ingredients are clear, there’s another upside that is easy to overlook. Plant-based ingredients, like tofu, offer a thoughtful and inclusive approach for the foodservice industry to accommodate consumers with food allergies.

Heavily processed meat mimics may contain allergens–including gluten– whereas minimally processed plant-based options provide more choice for those with dietary restrictions. Though it should be noted that soy is a common allergen, thereby underscoring the importance of embracing a number of whole-food ingredients, to cater to all consumers.

With interest in plant-based eating increasing every year, chefs within the foodservice sector are taking the lead in developing nutritious meals that don’t rely on meat mimics and can turn a profit. It will be interesting to see if the burgeoning rise of new ingredients that focus on healthy protein delivery without mimicking meat, such as UK-founded Vegbloc, will find popularity in the industry. If they do, it will be indicative of a consumer shift away from substituting animal products to simply replacing them with healthier and more sustainable options.

Where the Plant-Based Industry Is Headed: A Gartner Cycle Analysis

The “boom and bust” of meat alternatives? Analyzing the industry against the Gartner Cycle may provide a more accurate image of how the market is performing and what the future is likely to bring.

In the simplest terms, the Gartner Cycle is a visual representation of the development of new technologies. Data is presented as a graph that documents stages in technology evolution, including adoption, maturity, and social application.

The commercial relevance of the model should not be underestimated. When understood and used appropriately, the Gartner Cycle can offer businesses–and entire sectors–valuable insight into emerging trends and technologies. This, in turn, allows decision-makers to choose where and to invest to maximize company profitability and longevity.

The Gartner Cycle’s five phases

Spanning five definitive moments during the development and acceptance of new technology, the Gartner Cycle can be applied to various sectors, including the plant-based industry. The Financial Times reported as such, back in January 2022, when it claimed that the cycle model could be useful for identifying if plant-based foods are simply a fad or indicative of lasting dietary shifts.

The five phases are:

Innovation Trigger

The first stage of the cycle applies to when a new technology is first introduced. This could generate interest via a ‘soft launch’ or teaser campaigns. Excitement and hype characterize this phase, as people begin to consider the potential of the technology, despite there frequently being little or no qualitative information available yet. Much of this cycle is predicated on potential adoptees of a new technology imagining what it could do for them, in an ideal world.

In a plant-based industry sense, this was observed in companies claiming to have made meat analogues indistinguishable from animal products. Consumer interest was piqued and buyers were keen to try said products.

Peak of Inflated Expectations

This is when the hype surrounding new technology reaches its peak. Optimistic predictions about the technology’s impact are often made, with mainstream media commonly cottoning on at this stage. Early adopters may start to emerge as well, despite the new technology not being ready for full deployment or still experiencing teething problems.

Trough of Disillusionment

Reality hits. This phase sees the initial hype cool and a more realistic assessment of the technology (and its limitations) kick in. For those that took a chance and invested early, disillusionment is a real risk as there is potential to discover that the technology is not as mature or applicable as they hoped.

Beyond Meat’s infamous 2022 stock crash, which came as a result of soaring production costs and legal battles,

Slope of Enlightenment

Here, technology begins to develop further, and its capabilities become more apparent. Companies that wait to adopt this phase have a more realistic overview of how the technology can benefit their organization.

Plateau of Productivity

This is the final phase of the Gartner Cycle when the technology has reached its full potential and has been adopted as a mainstream option. Solutions have been proven, and the results are quantifiable.

The Gartner Cycle is a useful tool for understanding the progress of emerging technologies, plant-based foods included. However, it has limitations of its own, chiefly that it is only a model and can fail to accurately consider factors such as the global economic market, politics, and unpredictable occurrences such as health pandemics, all of which significantly affect meat-free manufacturers.

Where is the Plant-Based Industry on the Gartner Cycle?

The plant-based industry is growing. In 2022, the global plant-based food market was valued at $39.8 billion and is projected to reach $126.9 billion by 2032. The upward trajectory of the sector is being driven by multiple factors, including increased consumer awareness of the environmental and health benefits of plant-based diets, animal welfare concerns, and the development of new plant-based products that mimic meat.

The plant-based industry is–arguably–still in the early stages of growth, but the recent downturn in fortunes for more than one major brand makes it hard to pinpoint exactly where on the Gartner Cycle the sector is as a whole.

It may be still in the Innovation Trigger or Peak of Inflated Expectations phases, as excitement remains high, especially for new products that have never before been perfected. Add in evolving but still young niches, such as precision fermentation for alternative dairy, and there is a case for the industry still being in the initial phases. However, the industry’s recent struggles could indicate that the Trough of Disillusionment has been reached.

Mainstream media has used the dramatic drop in Beyond Meat’s stock prices and Meatless Farm’s recent fall into administration and subsequent rescue by fellow plant-based brand VFC to paint a picture of a sector in trouble. Claiming that the bubble has burst for plant-based meat and alternative diets, many reports fail to consider the socioeconomic factors that have impacted consumer spending, not to mention a potential drop off in health concerns as the Covid-19 pandemic becomes a distant memory for many.

There is potential to dissect the plant-based industry into specific niches, allowing for more accurate cycle pinpointing. For example, mycelium protein development is at peak hype right now. With a handful of companies manufacturing meat alternatives made from mushroom root structures, the potential of the ‘clean’ ingredient is being widely promoted.

On the flip side, established plant-based products made with large amounts of coconut oil and sodium are seemingly losing mystique and may reach a plateau, as consumers search for healthier alternatives to traditional meat.

Comparison to other sectors

While the plant-based industry is growing at an impressive rate (reportedly up to 12.2% CAGR), it is still small compared to meat and dairy, both of which have reached the Plateau of Productivity and are established in the global food system as accepted norms. Though animal agriculture faces increasing consumer criticism and production costs, the meat and dairy sectors are still expected to grow until 2030 and beyond.

Conversely, the plant-based industry faces a number of challenges of its own, including reducing product costs, labeling legislation woes, and the need to improve product tastes and textures. However, the industry also benefits from a number of trends that maintain hype about new developments. These include increasing awareness of the benefits of plant-based eating, celebrities endorsing veganism, and global events such as Veganuary.

Where the Plant-Based Industry Is Headed

It is difficult to predict where the plant-based industry is headed accurately. However, based on the Gartner Cycle and the recognized factors driving the popularity of the sector, it seems reasonable to assume that further growth is on the cards.

The industry is likely to move into the Slope of Enlightenment or Plateau of Productivity phases in the next few years, as health-conscious and ethical consumers embrace plant-based and flexitarian diets. Moreover, as production methodologies for plant-based products continue to improve, hopefully driving down the end cost and improving mouthfeel and taste, formerly skeptical buyers might commit to regular purchases.

At a Glance: How the Plant-Based Sector Became a Catalyst for Food Industry Change

Selfish Cow

Recent declarations from the mainstream media that the plant-based revolution is ‘over’ have resulted in doubts about the sector’s future. Underpinned with constant reminders that even major players, including Beyond Meat, have faced stock downturns, such articles have created a worldwide narrative that seems somewhat grim. In turn, this suggests a fading interest in plant-based products, but the truth is more complex.

Contrary to gloomy headlines, the plant-based industry has been on a steady upward trajectory. Sales of plant-based products–including refrigerated plant-based meats– have surged and plant-based food dollar sales exhibited consistent growth from 2018 to 2021, boasting a 54% revenue increase and a compound annual growth rate of 15.5%.

Looking at the larger picture and overall growth of the plant-based industry, not simply comparing dollar sales from the 2019-2020 boom era to now, gives a more comprehensive overview of the ongoing success of food industry disruptors. What’s more, the sector is anticipated to continue growing, to take larger market share away from conventional dairy and meat, but how has it gotten to this point?

These are the key ways that plant-based food companies have secured their permanent seats at the table.

Resilience in the face of resistance

The rise of plant-based food sales was initiated prior to the global Covid-19 pandemic and maintained its momentum as home cooks began experimenting with healthier and new products. When pandemic restrictions eased and restaurants reopened, trends showed that consumers were looking to try plant-based foods out in public and picking them from grocery store shelves.

In 2020, U.S. retail sales for plant-based foods reached $6.9 billion, and by 2021, they set a new record at $7.4 billion. Despite challenges in accurately tracking sales across multiple channels, the industry’s general interest remains robust and tangible. This points to more than just a trend; it’s indicative of a lasting dietary shift. Research supports this theory as it was revealed that over 2 million people participated in Veganuary 2022, the biggest sign-up since the event began in 2014.

The adoption of plant-based foods during the pandemic has been widely attributed to a desire to embrace healthier diets, alongside increased environmental awareness. Moreover, it was not only vegan consumers driving sales, with flexitarians and vegetarians also contributing. The message was that plant-based foods are for everybody and here to stay.

Understanding what consumers want

Plant-based food companies demonstrably possess a keen insight into the nuanced and changeable desires of consumers. Their ability to cater to both early adopters and the mainstream market paves the way for a more inclusive and vibrant food future.

Vegans and flexitarians are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential plant-based buyers. As such, focusing marketing campaigns and data analysis on these groups alone overlooks the broader impact of the industry. Moreover, depending on early adopters would neglect the vast mainstream audience that is increasingly embracing plant-based options in their daily lives. The key is to make plant-based food a choice for everybody, not a niche offering for the few and that is exactly what manufacturers have sought to do.

Retailers also play a pivotal role in identifying and addressing consumer wants. Grocery store shoppers can easily differentiate between premium and value-based offerings and they must be given the opportunity to analyze plant-based offerings in this way. Stocking a range of high-end and budget-friendly meat and dairy alternatives helps to educate consumers about the myriad of products available and curtails unfavorable comparisons. For example, a plant-based Beyond Meat burger is still considered an expensive purchase, especially when compared to conventional beef products. However, budget veggie burgers will offer comparable weight to dollar ratios, with no cholesterol and likely a smaller environmental impact.

To continue growing the plant-based market, consumer education and product diversity are paramount. Marketers and merchandisers have the opportunity to enlighten consumers about the unique qualities of alternative products, thereby fostering informed decisions and lasting dietary change. Meanwhile, manufacturers can begin to experiment with less conventional items in a bid to show shoppers that they don’t have to say goodbye to favorite dishes.

Retail support remains strong

While consumers are certainly creating demand for easy access to a wider selection of plant-based products, retailers themselves are seemingly committed to allocating shelf space to meat and dairy alternatives. This, despite economic challenges they are facing with high inflation and rising supplier prices. The latter remains extra pertinent for the UK, following its departure from the EU.

The sentiment among food service retailers is clear – plant-based options remain a central focus, because consumers want them. They also help retail brands to position themselves as companies that prioritize environmentally responsible practices, a niche that appeals to both boards of directors and consumer bases in an increasingly environmentally-aware world.

Where once a few plant-based products could be found scattered throughout grocery stores, increasingly retailers are seeing the value of grouping such items in a clearly marketed store segment. Whole aisles are now dedicated to meat and dairy-free items and clearly signposted for consumer ease. Such moves are a clear indicator that demand is proven and increasing.

The flourishing future of plant-based

Numerous players have entered the burgeoning plant-based arena and while established brands grow and smaller competitors may fail, overall the market will stabilize, over time. This could take the form of retailers scaling back on new brands in the short-term to promote new products from established brands, or unveil their own proprietary plant-based lines. The introduction of such in-house grocery brands stands to counter perceptions of larger brand decline.

It’s not just retailers that are paving the way for a positive future though as restaurants, particularly quick service chains, play a role too. Limited-edition plant-based offerings, such as the Beyond Meat/KFC nuggets, spark interest that can help to reshape consumption patterns. Supported by permanent meat-free menu items, such releases remind consumers that they can eat the foods they enjoy, with a plant-based twist and for a comparable price. In effect, there is no downside and no loss of convenience either.

In grocery aisles and on restaurant menus, the mainstream availability of plant-based options underscores the industry’s resilience and continued expansion. By 2024, the plant-based dairy and meat industries are projected to achieve market value growth of $7.9 billion and $2.6 billion, respectively. If growth continues along the same trajectory beyond 2024, the plant-based sector will have secured more than just a seat at the food system table – it will be driving radical change from within.

Is Plant-Based Meat Set to Be Replaced with Whole Food-Centric Alternatives?

Widespread reports that plant-based meat is a sector in significant decline raises the question; what’s next for sustainable and ethical food trends?

While much of the naysaying surrounding plant-based meat can be attributed to inherently compromised sources–including the conventional meat and dairy industries–it is an unavoidable truth that in recent months a number of animal-free brands have fallen on hard times. However, the misfortunes of a few do not herald the state of play for an entire subset of the food manufacturing market.

If plant-based meat truly is experiencing a decline in popularity, it leaves a gap to be filled by another alternative to animal protein and industry insiders suggest that heart-healthy whole foods and vegetable-centric protein sources are set to become the next big thing.

The rise and plateau of plant-based meat

Arguably, 2019 was the beginning of what would be a fast-paced boom for the meat analogues niche. So much so that it has been reported that close to one-quarter of all food products launched that year were vegan-friendly.

The upward trajectory continued into 2020, resulting in the sector being valued at $1.4 billion. The Good Food Institute revealed that plant-based meat was a key driver for US retail sales, thanks to sustained growth between 2019 and 2022 that saw a 45% growth rate. Notably, the same report also revealed that repeat custom of plant-based meat was at more than 60% (63%), marking a potential long-term consumer shift away from meat.

Theories as to the rise in popularity of meat alternatives center around three main motivations: health concerns, sustainability, and animal welfare. The former became a pertinent factor as the world grappled with the Covid-19 pandemic but the stratospheric rise of alt-protein companies proved to be unsustainable.

Why is interest in plant-based meat declining?

Big names within the market have been held aloft as an example of the so-called “boom and bust” of vegan meat products. In the case of Beyond Meat, a lot of media attention focussed on personal falls from grace, plummeting share prices, and falling retail sales. Its singular story has been used as a marker of a sector in serious trouble.

Analysts have speculated that plant-based meat’s overall decline is due to a combination of cost, taste, and new trends. It’s no secret that price parity is a key selling point, with flexitarian consumers not always looking to pay more for a meat mimic that contains no actual animal protein. Flavor and texture concerns have also been raised as a potential sales-killer, with consumers claiming that meat analogues are not yet able to faithfully mimic the sensation of eating an animal protein product.

Earlier this year, the Kerry Group revealed data that claimed plant-based meat needs to be both tasty and delicious to convince consumers to buy it regularly. Additionally, findings included that diners look for deep umami notes, chargrilled, and smoky flavors.

Despite not maintaining 2019 levels of consumer interest, plant-based meat continues to weather the storm with brands releasing new products and announcing fresh tie-ins with major fast-food chains. And why? Because the health and environmental implications of meat consumption are more widely acknowledged and understood than ever before. With this comes a choice: change dietary habits or contribute to personal and planetary downfall.

The emergence of new protein alternatives

A new trend appears to be arising within the wider plant-based food sector that puts whole foods, including beans, pulses and fermented vegetables on the menu. What’s more, they are not trying to mimic meat in any way, nor are they aiming to replace products that do. Instead, they appear to be a whole new niche within the meat-free manufacturing world.

Three key players in the field are Better Tempeh, which produces flavored tempeh pieces for cooking with, Vegbloc, a new vegetable and bean-forward protein source, and Simplicity, which showcases fermented vegetable products. All three appear to highlight their nutritional superiority over traditional meat mimics, with Vegbloc also noting that it is minimally processed, to be a natural alternative to both animal meat and highly processed plant-based counterparts.

Vegbloc becomes even more interesting when you understand that its co-founder, Simon Day, previously founded Squeaky Bean, a well-known UK meat mimic operation that produces a range of deli meats, filets, and chorizo.

“Meat mimics will continue to have a big role in our food system I believe, but there have always been barriers to adoption amongst significant parts of the population,” Day told Plant Based World Pulse.

“When I worked on the meat mimic brand I created, reaction was split between fans and doubters. After leaving that business, I wanted to launch a product that would work for the latter. Something that would help people eat more plants and answer their concerns about the plant-based category as it stood. The barriers for some were mainly around perceptions of meat mimics as overly processed and less healthy, as well as a frustration with the constant comparisons to meat and consequent underselling of delicious plants!”

This potentially explains why, despite the death knell being rung for plant-based meat by the mainstream media, the meat-free food market as a whole is expected to reach a value of $77.8 billion by 2025. Moreover, predictions claim that 2020’s value will be more than doubled by 2030.

Rising numbers of plant-based eaters will drive food trends

“I passionately believe that plant-forward will become a powerful and much broader trend.,” Day told PBWP.

“With growing concerns around highly processed foods, increasing interest in gut health, growing understanding of the benefits of eating a real variety of plants and pressure on global land use, it seems inevitable to me that we will eat more plants. The good news is that it isn’t just necessary, it’s also delicious!”

Consumers are apparently being driven by a revitalized interest in ‘functional’ foods, alongside those that promote healthy gut biomes, making fermented products popular. This, in place of recreations of popular meat and dairy items. As such, companies such as Better Tempeh, Simplicity and Vegbloc are presented with an opportunity to take advantage of a slew of new or curious buyers.

Plant-Based Trends: Are Predictions for 2023 and Beyond Still on Track?

Earlier this year Plant Based World Pulse unveiled a white paper that used market analysis and expert opinions to make key projections for the plant-based sector. As the year’s final quarter approaches, it’s time to revisit some key claims and identify if the market is still on track for large-scale success by 2030.

Are major plant-based drivers still working?

The original white paper highlighted the five main drivers of the plant-based sector. Significantly, there has been traction within these key motivators already, however, widespread reporting that the plant-based bubble has burst has called into question the validity of claims that the market will maintain growth. Overall, this appears to be a baseless concern.

Consumers continue to drive demand

Increasing consumer preference for plant-based products was deemed to be a major driver of sales. This was tied to a rising number of the global population choosing to embrace flexitarian or meat-free diets. While consumer dietary shifts still appear to be favoring a reduction in animal products, for some companies, the plant-based uptake has not been enough.

It would be reticent to ignore the fact that two large meat-free brands have recently been rescued from the brink of collapse. Meatless Farm, a UK-founded manufacturer of meat alternatives, was acquired by fellow plant-based food producer VFC after falling into administration in June. Around the same time, Plant & Bean, another UK-based meat-free manufacturer also called in administrators, before being bought by Heather Mills.

Despite facing difficulties, the fate of these two large brands does not diminish rising consumer demand for plant-based foods. Both cited inflation and spiraling production costs as the reasons for their shock shutdowns.

Selfish Cow

Innovation remains a focal point

As exciting plant-based protein sources, including mycelium, begin to enjoy serious traction, so too do cell-based developments. Though not considered plant-based by virtue of its origin, cultivated meat is moving forward and being touted as an environmentally and ethically superior alternative to conventional animal protein.

In recent weeks, the U.S. has given the green light for lab-grown chicken products to be sold. The move makes the US the second country in the world to approve such foods, with Singapore being the first adopter. Domestic cell-based manufacturers–including Upside Foods–have been striving for approval from the US Department of Agriculture for years and the victory marks a significant milestone in food production.

Venture capital interest is in question

Once the darling of the venture capital investments world, the plant-based sector was recently reported to be significantly less of a draw.

The claims came from the Financial Times, which stated that consumers are less interested in meat-free products and, as a result, so too are investors. Indeed, using data from the financial database PitchBook, the damning article claimed that in the first quarter of 2023, plant-based meat products bagged $75.2m million in venture capital investment, down from $703 million for the same time period, the year before.

While these figures appear conclusive, it should be noted that investment is still reaching plant-based companies. This, alongside a drastic uptick in interest in specialist enterprises prioritizing fermentation and cell cultivation techniques.

Health benefits are being widely reported

Advocates of animal-free diets have long reported the health benefits associated with their dietary preferences, and now the mainstream media appears to be following suit.

This year has seen multiple scientific research reports extrapolated into mainstream news articles that declare a plant-based diet as a valuable weapon against serious and chronic illnesses, including cancer and diabetes.

At the end of 2022, it was reported that consumers were taking far more interest in health and well-being, likely as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. As such, a consumer trends analysis company GfK survey revealed that 44% of people sampled claim to actively seek out products and services that will allow them to live a healthier life. It appears reasonable to assume that mainstream acknowledgement of the benefits of plant-based eating is impacting grocery buying trends.

On the whole, the main drivers of the plant-based sector appear to still be pushing the market forward but it could be argued that institutional changes are fast becoming a key motivator as well.

Education and healthcare lead the way

Alongside consumer demand for, investment in, and reported health benefits of meat-free products come culturally significant campaigns and legislation. A number of significant developments and protests have placed the plant-based agenda at the forefront of the global population’s minds.

Chief amongst the pro-plant-based is–arguably–the decision by New York City’s Mayor, Eric Adamas, to make all NYC hospitals serve plant-based menu items as the default option. He did so to give patients access to “healthy food” which he described as “medicine.” The move followed a 2022 directive, also launched by Adams, to serve plant-based meals in state schools for one day a week, dubbed “Vegan Fridays.”

Educational establishments have also identified the importance of sustainable menu options. As such, college campuses across the US have seen meat-free meals increase in number, with major food provider Sodexo pledging to make 50% of its menus fully plant-based by 2025. However, it’s not just US students who are happy to ditch meat.

Over in the UK, students have been increasingly demanding that their university catering options remove all animal products, for the sake of environmental benefit. The Plant-Based Universities campaign aims to transform all higher education locations into meat-free settings. Should they succeed, it stands to reason that there will be a sharp increase in demand for meat alternatives, thereby suffering up the sector.

Are plant-based predictions still on track?

The global plant-based sector is expected to reach a value of $77.8 billion by 2025 and to continue growing through 2030, potentially to more than $100 billion. However, these predictions were made during periods of lower inflation and before the impact of the cost-of-living crisis made itself known, both of which have drastically impacted consumer spending.

Selfish Cow

Despite potential stumbling blocks it is important to remember that plant-based eating is no longer deemed niche and as such, more people are seeking to include meat-free days in their diets. Moreover, it has never been easier to substitute animal products for sustainable, healthful alternatives, especially as major brands look to create plant-based versions of their best-selling products.

Global conglomerate Unilever predicts that plant-based eating will be mainstream by the end of 2023. It identifies a number of trends that will contribute to this, including increased fast food options and climate-impact labeling on food products, alongside the development of plant-based product lines in tandem with conventional releases.

Overall, it appears that the plant-based sector is still on track for growth. Quantifiable 2023 sales figures will be key to adapting expectations for long-term compound annual growth predictions from 2024 and beyond.


Click Here To Read What’s Next For Plant-Based? Trends for 2023 and Beyond, and Other Whitepapers. 

Plant-Based Labeling Globally: Where Consumers and Companies Currently Stand

Plant-based food labeling is a hot topic worldwide, not least because there is no singular approach. With a myriad of different guidelines in place, informing the consumer and allowing manufacturers to aptly demonstrate what their products are comparable to has become confusing, and, increasingly, a legal matter.

Seemingly, the central issue is not the use of terms such as ‘plant-based’ and ‘vegan,’ but, moreover, the adoption of monikers and adjectives more commonly attributed to the meat and dairy sectors. Specific examples of ire-inducing labeling include plant milk brands using terms such as ‘creamy’ and plant-based meat outfits calling their products ‘sausages,’ ‘burgers,’ and ‘steak.’

While there is no universal labeling rule in place, individual countries and regions have sought to impose varying degrees of censorship on the plant-based food sector. Though some have–arguably–been high profile in their approach, success has been limited as the global plant-based collective has actively fought back.

Plant-Based Labeling in The United States

Currently, the U.S. has no federal regulation of plant-based food labeling. In short, this means that domestic products and imported goods alike can be labeled as they wish, with no limitations on terms traditionally attributed to the meat and dairy industries, but this only applies at a federal level.

Confusingly, U.S. states can impose their own mandates. As such, regions that rely on the meat and dairy industries have been keen to ban plant-based manufacturers from using ‘meaty’ terminology to promote their goods. Texas provides a clear example of this in practice.

Holding the largest number of cattle in the entire US.., Texas is a meat and dairy-centric state. With this in mind, and as plant-based alternatives began to enjoy searing popularity, back in 2021 the House Bill 316 was given the green light by Texas lawmakers. The bill aimed to prevent meat-free manufacturers from using ‘beef’ and ‘meat’ on their packaging.

More recently, Texas’ Republican Governor–Greg Abbott–signed into law a bill that now legally requires all plant-based products to be clearly labeled as such, using pre-approved words. In addition, such signposting now needs to be as large as product names, to avoid “consumer confusion.”

Texas is not the only state to have taken apparent umbrage at the plant-based sector taking market share away from conventional meat and dairy companies. Arkansas, Missouri, Wyoming, and others have all attempted to censor meat-free manufacturers, though many face or have faced lawsuits from plant-based companies.

How Europe is Tackling Plant-Based Labeling

Unlike the U.S., Europe has a number of stringent regulations in place for plant-based food labeling. The European Union placed itself at the center of the issue by drawing up a list of terms that can be used to describe plant-based foods.

At present, companies are unable to label their products as ‘milk’ or yogurt,’ for example, even if they are qualified as being vegan or plant-based. However, manufacturers are able to market their foods as being an ‘alternative to yogurt.’ Similarly, descriptive terms have not been banned, allowing plant-based dairy firms to use words such as ‘creamy’ and ‘buttery.’

In 2020, the EU considered taking plant-based labeling censorship up a notch when plans to impose a blanket ban on terms such as ‘burger’ and ‘sausage’ being used by anyone other than conventional meat product producers were floated. This resulted in a coalition of plant-based companies–led by the Good Food Institute Europe (GFI Europe) and ProVeg International joining forces to oppose the move. A majority of just 48 votes eventually defeated the ban.

However, just as a ban on ‘meaty’ terminology was rejected, the EU voted in favor of similarly restrictive legislation, this time aimed squarely at the alternative dairy market. Had the legal changes gone through, plant-based companies would no longer have been able to package their products in cartons or use recognizable descriptors such as ‘creamy.’

Again, the GFI Europe team launched an awareness campaign to block the censorship. This time drawing the support of high-profile celebrities, including Greta Thunberg, which helped to overturn the proposal in 2021.

Despite such defeats, some EU member countries have sought to impose their own rules. France and Italy, in particular, have taken steps to implement meat-specific terminology bans, though the former was halted by a high court order in 2022.

As in the US, potential consumer confusion is frequently cited as a reason for attempts to censor plant-based manufacturers in the EU.

Sitting within Europe but outside of the EU regulations, the UK is in a unique situation. As one of the largest consumers and manufacturers of plant-based products in the world, it makes little sense to impose costly legislative changes to domestic and imported goods, but the current Conservative government appears to be considering exactly this.

Guidance is currently being drafted that would see tighter rules surrounding the use of dairy-centric words such as ‘cheese’ and ‘butter.’ They could be removed from the permitted plant-based lexicon altogether, even when accompanied by further descriptors such as ‘vegan’ or ‘plant-based.’ Even more concerning is that words spelt to demonstrate their dairy-free but comparable status could also be at risk, meaning that companies which have sought to use terms such as ‘mylk’ could be facing expensive rebranding.

South Africa’s Censorship Swing and Miss

One of the most notorious attempts to block the progress of the plant-based sector came from South Africa, in 2022.

It was announced in June last year that South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development (DALRRD) had implemented an immediate ban on the use of ‘meaty’ words on plant-based products. As such, it was reportedly preparing to seize all plant-based products that did not align with the new ruling, with shelves expected to empty at the end of August.

Plans were halted when the Johannesburg High Court stepped in and granted a reprieve that allowed manufacturers to sell their products, unchanged, until at least May 8th 2023. At the time of going to press, no announcements have been made to suggest the bans or seizures will be revived in South Africa.

If the issue is raised again, it is likely that the South African Meat Processors Association will once again be a staunch supporter. In 2022, it publicly backed the proposed ban and seizures, claiming that the use of meat-centric terms is “misleading for consumers.”

How Confused Are Consumers?

Given the apparent prolific global concern surrounding consumer awareness, ProVeg International commissioned a survey in 2022 to identify the impact of plant-based and vegan food labeling.

In addition to revealing that a majority of buyers prefer the term ‘plant-based’ to more vegan-specific or ‘meat-free’ jargon, the research found that very few individuals consider themselves at risk of buying the wrong food.

Tellingly, 94% of those surveyed said that they are not confused by plant-based chicken items being labeled as ‘nuggets.’ Moreover, more than 80% stated that anything labeled as ‘vegan,’ ‘vegetarian,’ or ‘plant-based’ is obviously free from animal meat. Just over two-thirds (76%) revealed that labels actively help them to make informed purchases.

Speaking at the time about the findings, Stephanie Jaczniakowska-McGirr, director of corporate engagement at ProVeg, noted: “We hope these results will contribute towards creating a favorable regulatory and labeling landscape for plant-based products, particularly when we’re seeing uncertainty around such topics in Europe.”

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