The rise – and challenges – of plant-based in 2020

If you spent any time reading food industry media this year you can’t have failed to notice the total dominance of plant-based foods as a topic. From celebs going vegan to new brands making waves – and the ever increasing list of alternative protein sources, it really feels like the industry is in a period of change. A number have factors have come together to have seemingly made the time ripe for plant based products to experience an upsurge:

Health

While it is not always the case that plant-based products are a healthier option than those containing meat, many are now cutting meat from their diet for health reasons, with many celebrities and athletes expounding the virtues of going meat free and the improvements it has made to how they look and feel. The use of hormones and antibiotics in meat production is a concern for some, while for others it’s the desire to follow a low cholesterol diet.

Covid-19

While plant-based was already experiencing a boom at the start of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has escalated this further. For those who have concerns about the trustworthiness of their meat sources, the most failsafe route is to avoid meat altogether and choose plant based. Couple this with potential meat shortages owing to meat plant closures and also the longer shelf-life of plant-based products, it’s easy to see why plant based has experienced such growth.

Environmental concerns

While we’re all familiar with animal welfare concerns being a reason to go plant-based, increasingly, people are cutting out meat as a means to lessen the impact that meat production has on the environment. Land usage, water usage and methane production are all environmental factors that consumers are increasingly aware of and looking to try and lessen as global warming, deforestation and water shortages become higher profile concerns.

Veganism on the up

Helped in part by Veganuary which has been gaining more and more traction each year, and boosted by high profile celebrities and athletes not just going vegan but using their platforms to appeal to everyone to go vegan, veganism has shot up. It is especially common amongst younger generations, with environmental concerns, health as well as ethics being the motivating factors.  High profile brands are broadening out their vegan offerings – and fast, with launches such as Greggs’ vegan sausage roll making huge headlines. Of course veganism is not just about cutting out meat, and so the rise of veganism has also caused a huge surge in the demand for plant based milk, and dairy-free cheese and egg substitutes as well as meat alternatives.

The less is more approach

Call it flexitarianism, reducetarianism, or Meat-Free Monday; there has also been a large movement to simply cut down on meat-consumption. Many with environmental motivations for reducing their meat intake now realise that it needn’t be an all-or nothing approach, and that if everyone ate a little less there could be a huge positive environmental benefit. Veganism is one things, but the impact of a large number of households going-meat free 1-2 days a week is not to be underestimated.

New and improved meat alternatives

While vegetarian products have been on the market for some time – most being created in the main from vegetables, pulses and cheese, there is now a new generation of ‘meaty’ meat-free products, which seek to replicate the eating experience of meat as closely as possible, from sausages and burgers to mince and chicken-style chunks. This meat-like eating experience is luring many meat-eaters away from meat, as consumers have to compromise very little. The big names in alt-meat are starting to gain a presence not only in supermarkets – but in restaurants as well.

CHALLENGES

Thanks to the developments in the above, taste and texture is less of a concern than ever before when it comes to reasons people might not try plant based meat. However, there are still a number of challenges the industry needs to overcome.

Health perceptions

While some assume vegetarian and vegan foods to be automatically a healthy choice, on the flipside, in the world of ‘clean label’, some are put-off by the long list of ingredients that go into some of today’s plant-based products and their processed nature – something which the meat industry has been quick to point out, and to compare to the simplicity and ‘naturalness’ of meat.  Depending on the product, there may be higher salt as means of imparting flavour. Also, for those on a high protein diet, many of the alternatives do not deliver the same amount of protein as, for example, chicken breast.

Price

At present, plant based proteins are more expensive to the consumer than their meaty equivalents. However as volumes increase, plant based brands are very focussed on driving costs down. For consumers for whom price the price is prohibitively high, another tipping point may come when a new a lower price opens the doors of plant based to new people.

Availability

This is one which is lessening by the day as plant-based meat takes huge strides in distribution, finding its way to supermarkets, fast foods chains and more and more new markets, including huge meat-eating markets such as China.

Clean Meat

Lab grown meat has a long way to go before it reaches supermarket shelves, but the wheels are most definitely in motion, and should this take off at scale in the future it is likely to be a threat to plant-based meat alternatives.

Coatings in common

One way producers can help make their plant based products more familiar and accessible to meat eaters is by using the same coatings consumers know and love from meat products. Bowmans can create crunchy breadcrumb and batter coatings as well as convenient dry mix marinades designed to adhere throughout production, packaging and cooking processes whatever your substrate. They’re a great way to add value to your product and deliver on both taste and texture.

We can also ensure your coatings are gluten free and / or vegan in order to meet your ‘free from’ label messaging requirements. Our clean label coatings are ideal for shoppers choosing plant based for health reasons and we can work with you meet your salt targets too.