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Plant-based foods have long been gaining traction in the UK. In fact, almost a quarter of all new food products launched in Britain last year were labelled vegan, according to market research firm Mintel.
Now, experts appear divided over the sector’s future. On one hand, some say the coronavirus pandemic could cause vegan and vegetarian diets to become even more popular. “After SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, Covid-19 is another zoonotic coronavirus that has a deep impact on human health,” Silvia Soragni, Global Savory Product Manager at Lallemand Bio-Ingredients, told FoodIngredientsFirst. “This raises questions regarding the safety of intensive farming, typical of highly industrialised areas, where these epidemics were likely to start,” she says.
“Plant-based food could, at this point, gain more traction, being seen as a safer, more sustainable source of protein.”
However, Anne Marie Butler, EU Research & Development Applications Manager at Edlong, disagrees, telling FoodIngredientsFirst that the number of new product launches has fallen as the industry comes under pressure from Covid-19. “The focus is now on ensuring that standard products remain on a shelf. This is especially true in Europe, where many supermarkets have prioritized standard and well-known products in place of new launches.”
Jennifer Nystrom, Sales Account Manager at Edlong adds: “The pandemic has been somewhat of a double-edged sword for the plant-based sector, as people are craving comfort foods on the one hand, but trying to stay healthy on the other. Grocery store shelves reflect this current trend, with meat and comfort foods often sold out, while some plant-based foods remain,” she adds.
The coronavirus pandemic has completely altered the way many shop and eat. But while consumers are currently after comfort foods that they know and trust, in the long-term, the industry’s future still looks bright.
Henrik Lund, CEO of Danish plant-based food brand Naturli painted a hopeful picture of the sector, telling FoodIngredientsFirst: “During a crisis, many people go back for a while to familiar, traditional foods. However, I am quite convinced that plant-based foods will bounce back more strongly than ever. More and more people are reminding each other that the world is still facing a climate change crisis, where it makes a great difference what each of us consumes.”
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