The plant-based protein market is heading towards innovation as new alternatives to meat and dairy products are being introduced. With the global sales of plant-based dairy and meat alternatives forecasted to reach $19.5 billion and $5 billion respectively, this is an industry that many food manufacturers are interested in.
Kara Nielson, Vice President of Trends and Marketing at CCD Innovation Inc., expects new consumers to start entering the plant-based protein category.
“These people may be vegans, people with allergies or people who are looking for alternatives that are innovative and interesting,” she said. “They are taking the generic protein trend in a new direction.”
According to Michele Simon, Executive Director of the Plant Based Foods Association in San Francisco, more than a third of Americans buy plant-based meat products and over a quarter of consumers said they ate less meat in the past year. Simon believes these food trends are due to the growing consumer concerns for health, the environment and animal welfare. These statistics have driven large food companies to invest in dairy- and meat-free ingredients and products.
“Big food companies are taking notice of the success of this industry,” she said.
In September, Nestlé USA acquired Sweet Earth, a manufacturer of meat-alternative based frozen meals. Sweet Earth’s portfolio includes a line of meat-free burritos, breakfast sandwiches, oriental meals and plant-based burgers. Dean Foods Co. acquired dairy-free flax seed based beverage company Good Karma earlier this year as well.
Beyond traditional plant-based foods, manufacturers are now producing meat-free products that look and taste like real meat. Many meat-eating consumers are becoming interested in these products due to their humane concerns. Simon refers to this shift from animal-based proteins to plant-based proteins as “higher order trends.” She defines higher order trends as the consumer’s preference for what they are used to in terms of protein, texture, flavor and content. By identifying what’s important to the consumer, whether it be how a product looks or the environmental impact it has, food manufacturers can customize products to fit their preference.
“What is more important when choosing a product?” she asked. “For certain consumers, especially vegans, it is more important that it is vegan. That’s part of the reason why you are seeing vegan yogurts and other products like them.”
California-based company, Impossible Foods, has produced a burger with the same consistency, look and taste of meat-based products. The burger even has a pink centre and “bleeds” as if it were made from beef. An internet sensation, Impossible Burgers quickly gained popularity as the “bleeding veggie burger.”
“They (Impossible Foods) are offering meat eaters an alternative that is not made from meat,” Ms. Nielsen said. “Their issue is the environment; it’s all part of their story.”
On Thursday, plant-based food manufacturer, Hampton Creek, announced the launch of their Just Scramble vegan egg product. The product, which will be introduced in 2018, will only be available to restaurants at first but it will be available to consumers later that year. The mung-bean based product has a similar taste, texture and appearance of scrambled eggs and contains no cholesterol or antibiotics.
“We were lucky enough to find something that has impacted our food system for thousands of years and turn it into a meal that will impact it for thousands more,” Josh Tetrick, Hampton Creek’s cofounder and CEO, said in the statement.
The market for plant-based protein is gaining momentum as new food innovations drive that change. According to Nielson data, plant-based meat and dairy alternatives grew 8.1 percent in sales reaching over $3.1 billion. Sales of milk alternatives during that period increased 3.1 percent while cow’s milk declined in sales by 5%.