The rise of plant-based

By Happen Client Director, Kate Parry 

Plant-based innovations are everywhere. From Instagrammable energy balls to the rise of alternative milks, the whole world seems to be going vegan.

Except it isn’t.

We are witnessing the modern diet undergo a period of rapid transformation. Environmental, economic and health concerns combined with instant access to information – from Netflix documentaries such as Cowspiracy to scientific facts about the future of our planet – has propelled plant-based meals into the mainstream. Yet veganism itself, remains on the fringes.

150 million more meat-free meals were consumed in 2018 than the previous year in the UK, yet just 3% of people identify as vegan (Kantar). These stats suggest that while the ethical treatment of animals and concerns over greenhouse gas emissions play a part in our food choices, they are not the main factors. People are opting to eat less meat for a wide variety of reasons – but they are not willing to forgo animal products entirely.

The result is a pick and choose, flexitarian approach to food that is not a fad, but a lasting behavioural shift. We know this because the plant-based diet sits in the centre of a Venn diagram that ticks off a whole host of trends: a focus on personal health, the value of provenance and authenticity, and environmental concerns.

"We are witnessing the modern diet undergo a period of rapid transformation."

Kate Parry - Happen Client Director

It’s also a sector full of excitement and innovation, from flavour-packed drinks and snacks with multiple health benefits, to eye-catching, rebellious designs (perhaps the most on-the-nose, being Rebel Kitchen’s range of ‘mylks’.)

Helping elevate the flexitarian diet from a trend to a new way of life, are millennials. A third of all vegans are millennials, a generation that has long-demanded multiple benefits in everything in life – from experiences to employment. That demand has in turn propelled the plant-based phenomenon, with startups competing to produce items that are flavour-focussed, immune-boosting, healthy, unconventional, subversive, Instagrammable and more.

For all of the above reasons, we believe flexitarianism is here to stay – and it’s vital organisations invest in this space.

Small suppliers have generated much of the excitement and interest in plant-based foods to date. They can be nimble, responding to consumer demands and innovating accordingly, at speed. But these companies are already moving into the mainstream. Impossible Foods, for example, launched in 2011 with an idea for a meat-free burger that tastes like the real thing. Its success rests on the multiple benefits of its products – they are tasty, visually exciting, vegan-friendly and convenient. Today, Impossible Burger is heading to supermarkets and Burger King, and the company is working on fish and steak replacements.

Large manufacturers have the funds and experience to launch mainstream, plant-based products, and make an even greater impact. And they need to act now.

It’s predicted meat taxes will soon be introduced to combat the impact animal farming has on climate change (the global livestock industry is responsible for an estimated 15% of greenhouse emissions). As a result, we will not only see more plant-based options, but meals with reduced meat content that can compete on a price point with vegetarian and vegan options.

We are at the beginning of this fundamental shift, and there is still plenty of room to innovate. If you want to hear more about how we can help you get on the front foot, come and talk to us:

In the meantime, here are some of our tips for entering the plant-based space:

Appeal to the masses
Plant-based should not be for the privileged few. Large organisations have the opportunity to provide lower cost alternatives to costly startup products, and appeal to the mass market in the process.

Transparency is critical
Some nutritionists have already voiced concerns about what the plant-based phenomenon means for our long-term health, given many young people are replacing dairy with, frequently, less nutritious products. There will be more scrutiny around what’s in meat-free products, and the replacement of lost nutrients with comparable alternatives will prove vital.

Convenience is king
Consumers do not want to change other behaviours – so don’t expect them to start soaking lentils overnight and routinely following elaborate recipes. Plant-based alternatives need to offer convenience – that includes being able to store them in the same way, and for the same length of time, as their animal-product counterparts.

The taste-test
Plant-based snacks are frequently packed with salt, sugar and fat to ensure their flavour is appealing. Food innovators need to focus on replicating taste and sensorial pleasure without loading up on unhealthy ingredients.

Vary your message
Adoption of the plant-based diet varies by generation – so your messaging should change in accordance. While generations Y and Z might choose a product because of its cultural currency, older baby boomers will opt in for the pure health benefits.