Everyone from Deliveroo to Tesco launched plant-based ranges and strategies in 2019 – yet the vegan population remains just 1.16% in the UK. Flexitarianism is where the most opportunity remains – a YouGov poll found 14% of the population only eat meat occasionally. But if brands want to bring more people into the fold, they will need to produce campaigns and products that directly respond to consumer behaviour change.
Here are the top 5 trends any plant-based purveyor needs to keep in mind this year:
1. Processed foods are a good thing
When consumers hear processed food, they think chicken nuggets and meat patties of some unknown origin. But not all processes are bad, points out Happen’s Managing Director Suzanne Robinson. In fact, some will be more important than ever as the plant-based movement accelerates, in order to protect the nutrients the food is favoured for. “People must not feel like they are being conned,” explains Robinson. “Some products may contain 20 important plant ingredients, but the nutritional content is actually pretty poor. People should quite rightly interrogate what’s in there. If, however, the processing is done in an open, transparent way, with a great and beneficial end result, younger consumers will value that.”
2. Frozen foods are booming
Frozen food is having a renaissance as the public demands a higher nutritional value from convenience foods. Freezing locks in nutrients without additives and supports the move towards a more sustainable food system – the UN estimates a third of fresh food is wasted every year. In 2018, volume growth for frozen foods turned positive for the first time in five years, with a raft of startups transforming its reputation: Mealhero in Belgium and The Netherlands works on a subscription model and requires a special Smart steam oven; Seal the Seasons in the US works with farmers to freeze produce in season and sell it year-round; and Irish brand Strong Roots focuses on flavour-packed sides and centrepieces such as Kale & Quinoa Burgers. Reports suggest the frozen foods sector is now the fastest growing retail category in the UK – worth £8.6bn, it is growing at a rate of 4% each year.
3. Plant-based 2.0 will be healthier
The default perception is that plant-based means healthier – but that is simply not the case. Some of the biggest companies driving interest in plant-based have come under fire for the content of their substitutes. Impossible burgers, for instance, are packed with added minerals, vitamins and fibre – but contain less protein and far more salt than beef burgers. “At stage 1, companies thought it didn’t matter what they put in it,” says Jason Gibb, founder of the Bread and Jam Festival. They simply prioritised reaching a target market. “Plant-based 2.0 will be about healthier ingredients.” Consumers will always want indulgent plant-based options – it’s about being fully transparent when it comes to ingredients, and the need a product fulfils. “Consumers have varied needs – sometimes they have strong health needs, sometimes indulgence needs,” says Premier Foods’ Marketing and Innovation Controller, Kate Yateman-Smith, who helped launch Plantastic with Happen. “We have moved towards a conscious consumer.”
4. Transparency is king
Conscious consumers are more aware of what good nutrition really is, they want to know how their food is produced and, increasingly, won’t tolerate brands with bad eco-credentials. Awareness around farming – it uses up to 92% of our freshwater, with almost a third of that down to livestock – will drive more people towards plant-based. Yet, just as plant-based is not always healthier, ingredients are not automatically more sustainable. In 2017, Mexico considered importing avocados because its own citizens were being priced out, and a study by six US universities in 2018 predicted vegetarian diets will be more sustainable than vegan due to land cultivation issues. With this in mind, brands must be able to justify all and any health and sustainability claims. “If the consumer finds out they have been conned in some way, it will have a huge negative impact on something that could be very good for us all,” says Robinson. Companies must put more emphasis on everything from where they source ingredients to how it’s packaged – and be ready to be honest and transparent about any failings.
5. Plant-based can’t afford to be unaffordable
The cost of meat alternatives regularly outstrips real meat counterparts. “Some of the prices might be justified – the mix of materials may be expensive or the supply chain newer,” Simon Wallwork, a veteran strategic marketeer, said at Food Matters Live last year. “However, some people are simply over-paying – £25/kg for meat alternatives versus £5/kg for beef burgers.” Until those prices come down, plant-based won’t fulfil its promise as an environment-saving solution, simply because too few people will choose it. Data sharing around manufacturing processes could be one path to increasing efficiency and driving down costs. “Cheap doesn’t have to be poor quality,” Michael la Cour, Head of Food Services at Ikea, said at FML. “When we began making affordable furniture in the 60s, no one thought it was possible. You must work backwards and take complete ownership of the supply chain. We sell 110 million hot dogs each year. If we had 60-70 suppliers across countries, it wouldn’t work. When you have three or four, you can reach the product development you want to achieve and produce volumes that drive profitability. That’s the mission we’re on – to make good, well-sourced produce at low prices.”
Want to find out more about the wonderful world of plant-based? Click on the links below to read on:
Premier Foods and the power of plants
The rise of plant-based
Innovation in Action: Health & Wellbeing in 2020