What’s next for plant-based protein?

20 October 2021, 08:02 AM
  • As the vegan movement grows, we ask what’s in store for the future of plant-based meat alternatives
What’s next for plant-based protein?

The rise of plant-based food and drink has been no secret. Global brands like Oatly and Beyond Meat have transformed the landscape of meat and dairy alternatives, and every major supermarket has thrown its hat into the ring with own-brand vegan products.

One report by Bloomberg Intelligence says plant-based foods will make up 7.7% of the global protein market by 2030, with a value of $162bn, up from just $29.4bn in 2020. It comes as consumers have become more open to the idea of plant-based foods and developed an interest in a flexitarian diet.

In fact, a study published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health revealed that daily meat consumption in the UK has dropped by nearly a fifth over the last decade. Average daily meat consumption per capita has fallen by 17%; however, researchers said an even more “substantial” reduction was needed, and consumption must be cut by 30% by 2030 to reduce emissions from cattle and sheep. For someone who eats meat every day, this would be the equivalent of having two meat-free days per week, the researchers said.

The taste for alt-meats grows

Industry players have noted a huge growth in appetite for plant-based food. “Demand for plant-based products has increased hugely over the last couple of years, with the top drivers being increased environmental and health concerns,” said Andy Shovel, co-founder of THIS, which creates plant-based meat alternatives. “We’ve seen year-on-year growth of 200%, which is more than six times the retail category growth rate.”

As for what’s next, Andy said, “What we’ll start to see more of is a consumer demand for a broader range of plant-based options and for a variety of eating occasions.” The brand has expanded its plant-based pork range to include pigs in blankets, pork, apple and sage stuffing and mini pork sausages. “The range is aimed at tempting even more meat eaters to trial and adopt plant-based food over the festive season and beyond,” he said.

Jordi Barri founded his plant-based company Flax & Kale in Spain more than 40 years ago, and since then he said the sector has gone from strength to strength to become the competitive and tech-focused industry that it is today.

These changes mean the consumer profile of who eats a veggie – vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian – diet is changing, Jordi said. “As the interest in veggie diets expands, we have seen an increase in interest and commitment among men, with 12.9% having started a veggie diet in 2021 from a 6.8% in 2019. This means that now from all vegan, vegetarian or flexitarians, almost half of them are men – 47.7%. In 2019 it was only 1 out of 3.” Women are still leading the way, however, being more open to trying new plant-based products and eating plant-based more frequently. 

Targeting higher growth

Going forwards, the sector’s growth is being led by more adults becoming flexitarians, while younger people adopt vegan diets. “While the upward trend is obviously optimistic, I believe that there is still a lot the sector can do to continue to appeal and convince new consumers of the benefits associated with plant-based diets,” Jordi said. “Better and clearer communication, for example, can help boost the already existing appetite for plant-based food.”

Education and outreach to young consumers in particular could push the sector forwards, Jordi said. “Young people can be the advocates our industry needs, so companies like ours should be making a real effort to reach and talk to them. As well as going to schools, we should be targeting the social media and media channels they use to speak to them in their terms and language,” he said.

“I believe that companies like ours and the sector as a whole should pay more attention to communicating the value of our plant-based offering by stating the positive impact it has on nature,” Jordi continued. “While society seems to be ready for a change in consumer habits, the sector can respond with good quality, tasty products and a depth of information of what consuming (or not) them will do to the planet.”

What’s next for vegan meat alternatives

The sector is now poised to launch even more exciting products, according to Andy. “Innovation is at the heart of the plant-based industry. We’ll continue to see some really exciting developments when it comes to the ingredients we’re using and how the products are being made,” he said. “We have, for example, developed a new patented plant-based fat that promises the same succulence, texture, and satisfaction of animal-based fat, without any of the down sides. To drive mass change it’s so important we create products which are hyper-realistic to their meat equivalents.”

Further innovation is also occurring in the cultured, or lab-grown, meat sector. Recent research revealed private investments in cultured meat reached $506m in 2020, a new record high.

Indeed, the market for plant-based meats has grown rapidly, with restaurants and fast food chains driving change on their menus. Reaching the wider non-vegan or flexitarian market with meat alternatives is “the most important challenge of our industry,” Jordi said.

This is an area where alt-milks already excel. “This unique opportunity to continue growing not only among vegetarian and vegan consumers, but among the wider market is one of the key drivers for us at Flax & Kale. We see huge potential in reaching consumers who, outside the vegan and vegetarian markets are looking for ways to improve their own wellbeing and to have a minimal, and positive impact on the planet.”

Continued innovation and new product developments are on the horizon for the plant-based sector, and the future looks bright for alt-meats as more consumers make vegan swaps. “Plant-based food is the future of our industry, and, in the coming years, we can expect an explosion of demand and supply, of innovation and development all across the world,” Jordi said.

close stay up-to-date with our free newsletter | expert intel | tailored industry news | new-to-know trend analysis | sign up | speciality food daily briefing