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.
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.
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.