What’s next for the plant-based sector?

25 August 2020, 10:52 AM
  • We look at how the pandemic will impact the Veganuary movement, and what innovative trends could take over the plant-based sector next year
What’s next for the plant-based sector?

In January 2020, over 650 new vegan products launched into market as a record-breaking number of consumers around the world took the Veganuary pledge.

Predicting trends is always tricky, but even more so when you throw a global pandemic into the mix. But in 2021, an even larger number of people are expected to sign up to Veganuary – a number that exceeded expectations this year when it reached 400,000 participants worldwide – and it’ll no doubt be mirrored by an increase in product launches and new trends.

It could be evidence of the movement’s growth year-on-year, but it’s also likely to be fuelled by the coronavirus effect, which has increased awareness around the link between food and health, leading to a surge in demand for plant-based products. So with the vegan movement gaining more traction, what is Veganuary 2021 set to look like?

Above and Beyond
Typically, the Veganuary movement extends beyond product launches in retail outlets, to limited edition menus and new dishes in restaurants.

When it comes to product launches, every year brings with it a slew of offerings, from fish-free tuna and deli-style vegan wraps, to plant-based desserts, offering independent retailers an increasing number of options for setting up and stocking a vegan section.

In 2019, the number of trademarks registered for new vegan food and drinks in the UK grew by 128%, according to a report by commercial law firm, EMW LLC. Applications hit a record high with over 107 trademarks for everything from vegan ice cream to meat-free burgers. This increase comes from independent producers and start-ups, as well as supermarket own-brand products.

For the foodservice industry, the sky really is the limit when it comes to innovation.

“This year has really been the year of fake ‘meat’, with the Beyond Meat IPO and several other very high-profile plant-based meat brands raising huge investment,” Louise Palmer-Masterton, founder of multiple award-winning plant-based restaurant Stem & Glory, tells us. “A trend sneaking in through the back door has been a trend towards making fake ‘meat’ out of vegetables, instead of processed fake mea – for example, actress Tabitha Brown’s ‘carrot bacon’. We do this ourselves at Stem & Glory with our latest creation being a particularly amazing fake ‘ham’ made out of smoked celeriac sheets. We will be doing a lot more of this in the future, as we believe it to be a lot healthier than processed fake ‘meat’.”

Emerging trends
It seems there is no end to innovation in the plant-based sector, and the range of vegan products expands every year – we can’t say we saw watermelon ‘tuna’ and smoked carrot ‘salmon’ coming.

Though coronavirus may have slowed down some business’ rates of expansion and planned launches, we don’t expect it to have taken too big of a hit. And Veganuary is arguably the perfect time to drop news of a plant-based launch, particularly for those hoping to hit the ‘flexitarian’ demographic.

Given the impact of coronavirus, we may see more options for those who want to enjoy their favourite restaurant-style meals in the comfort of their own home, perhaps through meal kits and recipe boxes. Health, provenance and sustainability could also prove to be key selling points.

Since the onset of lockdown, many food retailers witnessed a surge in plant-based sales. With new consumers dabbling in the vegan diet, we may see more mock-meat products being launched, specifically tailored to consumers who are searching for healthier, more sustainable alternatives that still cook, look, taste like the real thing.

“We believe 2021 will be the year of the fake ’seafood’ and vegan cheese,” Louise says. “Vegan cheese has been getting better and better in the past couple of years, and there are a couple of products now that actually do taste nice. Fake ’seafood’ might sound like an impossibility, but when I was in Amsterdam early this year, I had a very real plant-based salmon sashimi, which was 100% vegan. All eyes are on these two spaces for 2021.”

Joe Coulter and Ben MacAndrews of PEP Kitchen may be biased, but the duo hopes 2021 will see a rise in convenience food and ready meal options: “Building on the success of Veganuary 2020, and with more and more people trying veganism for the first time, we think bestsellers will be products that make the vegan journey easy for the consumer. For example, we’ve got perfectly portioned, healthy meals for one and sharing dishes for two that are ready to eat in under 10 minutes from frozen – this is how we want to help make that vegan journey a smooth ride for all those new to the cause.”

So with Veganuary a key time for product launches, how will these trends shape the sector throughout the rest of the year?

“I am not sure Veganuary creates food trends; what it does do is create a huge increase in people taking the vegan pledge for the month,” Louise says. “And if you look at the Veganuary stats, a very large percentage of these people remain vegan after January. It definitely creates extra demand in our restaurants! At Stem & Glory, January is as busy, if not busier than the Christmas month, which is a real buck to the trend in restaurants generally, which often see a downturn in January.”

As the Vegan Society says, veganism is a trend that’s here to stay. So from Veganuary and beyond, we’ll be keeping a close eye on innovative products hitting the market and creative dishes offered in foodservice outlets, as the plant-based food sector continues to grow.

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