With many leading plant-based food brands based in the US, Americans might assume that a majority of plant-based meat and dairy innovation takes place at home. But new data from Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD) suggests that the US is actually falling behind compared to its European counterparts.
In 2020, more than 20 percent of global food company launches were plant-based meat or dairy brands. When broken down by country, this figure was 18 percent for Germany, 16 percent for Poland and 15 percent for the Netherlands. For the US, however, this figure was just 11 percent. What’s more, US brands, such as Starbucks and Domino’s, have launched plant-based versions of popular products in European markets before launching them domestically. So why is Europe leading the way in plant-based meat and dairy innovation?
Plant-Based Meat and Dairy Culture
In May 2020, ProVeg international surveyed European consumers across nine countries on plant-based foods. Out of over 6,000 respondents, more than three quarters (76 percent) were plant-based eaters and 24 percent were “reducers,” defined as those trying to reduce their meat and dairy intake. The survey also indicated that although consumers of specific plant-based products tended to be satisfied, they also thought there were not enough options in grocery stores, specifically for plant-based cheese.
Simply put, it comes down to culture. While some common purchase drivers for plant-based meat and dairy among European consumers were health benefits, a curiosity to try new products and taste, an overarching driver is an awareness of climate change. Europeans, as opposed to Americans, tend to have a better understanding of the climate crisis and are trying to reduce their consumption of animal-based products. Thus, European countries tend to lead the way in plant-based innovation because of their heightened awareness of climate change.
Of course, plant-based meat and dairy aren’t made solely for plant-based eaters. Instead, non-vegans and flexitarians are fueling the plant-based boom, including those that identify as “reducers.” In the UK alone, over 40 percent of people are either meat- or poultry-free, or actively reducing their meat consumption, according to Mintel data.
Increased Demand Is Leading to Better-Tasting Products
Since plant-based diets are more mainstream among European consumers, much of the plant-based meat and dairy innovation has focused on taste. At the end of the day, consumers won’t purchase items that don’t meet their taste requirements. And since taste is key, competition among private-label plant-based producers is ramping up as well.
While in the past, retailers would display plant-based meat and dairy in separate specialty aisles, many European grocery stores are now offering prime shelf space for plant-based items. Many products are integrated with other products in the meat and dairy sections. Take Tesco, Britain’s largest grocery chain, which aims to sell four times as many plant-based meat alternatives by 2025 as it did in 2018.
By contrast, it’s much more embedded in US culture to eat meat, poultry and fish, although several states, including California and New York, have more plant-based innovation than southern and midwestern states. However, this is changing as plant-based consumption rises in the US, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Oatly, for example, recently partnered with Starbucks to launch two new oat milk-based beverages in the US.
How the US Can Ramp Up Plant-Based Meat and Dairy Innovation
Despite some cultural differences, US and European consumers essentially look for the same attributes in plant-based meat and dairy, which is why Oatly brands its products the same on both continents. Consumers are looking for great-tasting products from brands that don’t feel so corporate and care about the same values they do.
What will ultimately drive more plant-based innovation in the US is continued consumer demand for plant-based meat and dairy and the “mainstreamification” of flexitarian and plant-based diets.