Food Entrepreneur: The plant-based revolutionaries
Disruptive innovation at the start-up level has played a major role in the burgeoning plant-based foods movement, as emerging brands such as Beyond Meat and Califia Farms redefine dietary staples for the mainstream palate.
“Where we are today is that consumers expect that there will be substitution without sacrifice,” said Darren Seifer, executive director and industry analyst of food consumption at The NPD Group and based in New York.
A barrage of new meat and dairy alternatives is capturing consumer imaginations and dollars in a way traditional tofu or soymilk never could, fueling a retail market that surged 11% to $4.5 billion last year, while total retail food sales in the United States inched up 2%, according to data from the Good Food Institute and the Plant Based Foods Association.
Americans continue to consume record amounts of meat each year, and the proportion of vegetarians and vegans remains small — about 5% of the U.S. population. But a growing number of consumers are incorporating more meat and dairy alternatives into their diets because they view the options as healthier than animal products, Mr. Seifer said. To a lesser extent, consumers are adopting occasional plant-based eating due to concerns related to animal welfare and climate change.
Sales of plant-based milks, which include alternatives based on almonds, coconut, soy, hemp and oats, grew 6% over the past year and now account for 13% of the entire milk category, while cow’s milk sales declined 3%, according to the Good Food Institute and the Plant Based Foods Association. The plant-based meat category grew by 10% and is now worth more than $800 million. Plant-based meats equated to 2% of retail packaged meat sales, with refrigerated plant-based meat growing 37%. Sales in the conventional meat category, in contrast, grew by 2%.
Barclays analysts last year predicted the global meat-alternative market will reach $140 billion over the next decade, equating to approximately 10% of the $1.4 trillion meat industry.
Taste and convenience are drivers of the broader adoption of plant-based alternatives. Another factor is marketing. Only recently has “plant-based” become a buzzword, appealing to omnivores who may have overlooked or rejected products featuring a vegan label. Ninety per cent of plant-based foods consumers also eat meat, Mr. Seifer said.
Additionally, the term “plants” connotes health to many consumers, Mr. Seifer said, even as some view certain plant-based products on the market as unhealthy or overly processed.
The Center for Consumer Freedom, a meat industry-backed nonprofit based in Washington, likened plant-based alternatives to dog food in recently published full-page newspaper ads. A television ad that aired in a local market during the Super Bowl called attention to ingredients used in some meat alternative products, like methylcellulose, with the message, “If you can’t spell it or pronounce it, maybe you shouldn’t be eating it.” (Impossible Foods, the maker of the plant-based Impossible Burger, quickly responded with a parody video suggesting the presence of fecal bacteria in ground beef and the statement, “Just because a kid can spell ‘poop’ doesn’t mean you or your kids should be eating it.”)
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