Exploring the plant-based revolution


Amid the ever-changing global landscape, the demand for plant-based products rose fast between 2015-2020, with new product launches featuring a plant-based claim increasing by a CAGR of 60% globally[1]. Declan Rooney, Strategic Marketing Manager Savoury and Savoury Alternatives for Ingredion EMEA, explores the trends driving the growth of the plant-based revolution, the impact of COVID-19 on consumers’ eating habits and how manufacturers of alternative meat and dairy products can take advantage of this opportunity.

15% of millennials are already meat-free[1] and more consumers are changing their diets to become flexitarian, vegetarian or vegan[2]. What’s more, consumers are becoming increasingly worried about the planet’s future, with the top cited reason for eating meat-free being that it is less harmful to the environment[3].

However, for manufacturers of meat and dairy alternative products, there are some important considerations to ensure that their products are well-received and repurchased by consumers. For example, meat alternative products should include a good source of protein and good sensory experience, and dairy products should feature claims that are most important to the customer, with ‘plant-based’, ‘vegan’ and ‘lactose free’ rated as the top claims[4].

But what impact has the global pandemic of 2020 had on consumer buying behaviour, both in the immediate and longer term, particularly when it comes to plant-based product innovation?

The impact of COVID-19

With social restrictions in place across the globe, there has been a significant rise in eating in. This increased in-home snacking by as much as 50% in France, Spain and the UK during week five of lockdown, as people turned to comfort food.

On the contrary, many consumers are becoming more interested in what they eat, scrutinising labels and looking for the reassurance of familiar ingredients. This is strengthening the already strong demand for clean label products and will accelerate clean label expectations into wider applications, including plant-based alternatives and indulgent treats.

As the pandemic has continued, a rise in healthy eating to maintain health has also surged. In the UK alone, 57% of consumers are now considering changing their diet to become healthier and more sustainable[5].

Plant-based diets are also perceived to be strongly associated with health[6]. COVID-19 is expected to influence the adoption of plant-based diets and accelerate the demand for meat and dairy alternatives. Over one in ten British people said they found a vegan diet had greater appeal following the outbreak of the pandemic[7].

Plant-based presents a key opportunity and for optimum impact, but formulations should provide claims that reflect consumer concerns. Organic, functional benefits and nutrition claims are all forecast to grow.

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The plant-based boom

As it currently stands, Europe accounts for 43.1% of global launches in products featuring plant-based, vegan and vegetarian claims[8]. There has also been a rise in flexitarians – for consumers who want to eat less meat rather than cut it out entirely.

The most commonly cited reason by consumers for why they choose plant-based alternatives was due to health concerns, and social concerns both environmental and animal welfare[2].

Importantly, this increased awareness means consumers are becoming more discerning when comparing plant-based and animal-based products. By proactively meeting this demand, manufacturers can meet consumers at the decision-making crux of adopting plant-based products.

The rise of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives

The European meat alternative retailer market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 11.8%, reaching €3.6 billion by 2025. This is up from €2.1 billion in 20209. And, 1 in 4 European consumers say that they now typically buy a dairy alternative product on a grocery trip[4].

There are several key points though that companies need to get right, in order to successfully harness these opportunities, however. To begin with, choosing the right claim is very important. When looking to put out a meat or dairy alternative, manufacturers should ensure they fulfil the claims that consumers are most interested in. For dairy alternatives, top claims are “gluten free”, “vegan” and “lactose-free”, followed by “no added sugar” and “source of protein[8].”

Additional claims should feed into functional benefits of the products. Consumers are looking for claims that support specific health benefits such as “digestive health”, “vitamin/mineral fortified”, “added calcium” and “high source of protein[9].”

For meat alternatives, they must serve as a viable source of protein, as the desire for a higher protein diet remains a strong trend. Currently, 44% of new product launches have a protein claim[10]. Selecting the source of protein is important, as companies should be aware of the changing preferences of consumers and their perception of ingredient acceptability. Pea protein has had the highest growth in new meat alternative product launches within the last five years[4].

Ingredients are a key differentiator in the category of meat alternatives, and label-reading consumers will choose between products by peering at the ingredients list first. This presents a great opportunity, as manufacturers have not yet fully leveraged cleaner labels in those markets. Companies should aim to keep the number of ingredients to a minimum, ensure ingredients are recognisable to consumers and be aware of some of the potential pitfalls on the horizon for meat and dairy alternatives.

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One such obstacle is the fading ‘health halo.’ The belief that plant-based products were synonymous with health can no longer be relied upon. Savvy customers are seeking to better understand the nutritional value of products. Ingredion research shows that Consumers cite nutritional value and clean label (recognisable ingredients) as the third and fourth most important factors when selecting a meat alternative[3].

Additionally, taste and texture are vital. Ingredion’s latest consumer research shows that the main reason consumers choose meat alternatives is as a substitute for meat in recipes[3]. Since many consumers of these products are classified as flexitarians, they are used to the sensory experience of meat – which also includes appearance – as well as the natural stretch of cheese or creaminess of ice cream.

By staying on top of trends and seeking out category opportunities, manufacturers can look to specific markets to harness new meat and dairy alternatives. For example, non-dairy spoonable yoghurt is the fastest-growing sub-category in dairy alternatives, at 26% CAGR. And dairy alternative drinks are another big growth category, accounting for 3-in-5 new launches[9]. These areas, alongside burgeoning meat alternative markets, suggest strong bets for where opportunities may lay in the future of plant-based products.

It’s also important to note that all age groups are looking to incorporate plants into their diet (Gen Z through to Boomers with Millennials highest at 71%)[9], so companies need to think about either targeting a certain demographic or creating products with mass appeal.

Meeting consumer demand

Understanding the top trends and demographics for plant-based products and where to focus attention, will help manufacturers to build a secure future. Consumers are increasingly aware of the impact their purchasing decisions have and these macrotrends point towards their support for animal welfare, the health of the environment and the future food supply chain.

Amid the impact of the global pandemic, to take advantage of the opportunities in meat and dairy alternatives, manufacturers should work to ensure that the taste and texture of their food mimics that of meat and dairy products, as well as incorporate the most impactful claims and keep labels clean and simple.



1 Mark Innova Database, 2019
2 UK Diet Trends 2020, Finder, 2020
3 Meat Alternatives Study, In-focus: Meat Analogue Consumers, UK, Germany, France, 2020
4 Innova Database, 2020
5 Food Navigator, Healthy Eating Takes Lockdown Hit, September, 2020
6 Forbes, Consumers Perceive Plant-Based Foods to be Healthier Even When They Compare Labels, January, 2020
7 Food Manufacture, Coronavirus Prompts Move to Vegan Diet, June, 2020
8 Ingredion 2019 Global Consumer Insights Program: Atlas, 2019
9 Ipsos Mori Surveys, The Vegan Society, 2016 and 2019
10 Innova Market Insights, Preparing for a Plant-based Future, 2020



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