Lisa Kelly, Sales Executive, Food Ingredients, discusses the growth of plant-based products and looks at some of the challenges and opportunities that exist.
Vegetarian and in particular vegan diets have seen considerable growth in the last few years. This has led to the overall expansion of the range of plant-based products that are available on the market. Though traditionally these products would have been largely only purchased by vegans and vegetarians, they have now reached mass appeal. Many people are looking to reduce their meat intake, and some are referring to themselves as being flexitarians. Meaning that they are still consuming meat, but their diet largely consists of being a vegetarian or vegan diet.
This has been partly driven by the perception that vegetarian and vegan diets are healthier. In addition, it is now well known that the environmental impact that meat production has is considerably larger than that of plant-based products. The COVID-19 pandemic has also focused further interest into plant-based food products, with sustainability and environmental impacts becoming key areas of focus for many consumers.
Reduction of meat consumption and an increase in alternatives
According to the European Union agricultural outlook for 2018-2030 report, meat consumption per capita is expected to decrease from 69.3 kg in 2018 to 68.6 kg by 2030. However, in reality there might be a sharper decrease of meat consumption. The Vegan Society valued the European meat alternative market in 2019 at $1,718.6 million. They project that it is expected to expand at an estimated CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 7.3% between 2020 – 2025. Globally, in 2019 the value of the meat free market was $4,532.6 million, by 2025 it is anticipated to reach $7,106.7 million.
The growth in this sector has also been assisted by advances in the taste, texture and appearance of many products. Previously vegan and vegetarian premade products were often not very appealing to look at and lacked in flavour, this is increasingly not the case. Consumers, in particular flexitarians now expect plant-based products to be high in protein. In addition to having a similar satisfaction of taste and texture to that of meat-based products which they are looking to substitute.
Challenges and opportunities for plant-based producers
The continued growth and interest by consumers with plant-based products does provide some challenges as well as considerable opportunities to the sector. Though there have been some major improvements as regards to the taste and flavour profile of products by using extracts such as umami. There is still room for improvement with creating a meat like flavour. On the other hand, producers should also consider that some consumers do not want plant-based food that mimics meat. Regardless, to ensure repeat purchases, producers will need to match their consumer expectations by investing in continued innovation.
Ingredients lists will need to shorten
One area that certainly will need to be addressed by food manufacturers is to cut back on the long ingredients lists that many of their products have. In addition, both high amounts of salt and fat are currently present in many plant-based products. Fortunately for food manufactures, it would seem that consumers are currently under the impression that they are purchasing a clean label product. However, it is only a matter of time before they will examine much closer the ingredients of plant-based food. In addition, the nutritional value will also come under scrutiny. Though many plant-based products contain protein, consumers will more than likely in the future seek more information as regards to the source of it as well as a more nutritionally rounded product overall.
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