Normalizing plant-based diets: Industry weighs in on the rise of flexitarianism
04 Jun 2020 --- Offerings labeled as “plant-based” appeal to the larger flexitarian consumer base more than explicitly calling out vegans or vegetarians. Despite there being no set definition of plant-based products, it seems as if they become a norm in our food culture. With NPD moving at a lightning pace, the industry is seeing more innovation than ever, even from companies who were unwilling to change previously, tailoring their offerings to meet the demand of the flexitarian consumer. FoodIngredientsFirst speaks with key players who are bolstering their presence in the plant-based arena.
In recent weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has pushed calls for reductions in meat and dairy consumption, a theme which was already in the spotlight. Innova Market pegs the “The Plant-Based Revolution” as the second most significant trend expected to influence NPD this year, fueled by growing consumer awareness of the impact of meat consumption on both personal and planetary health.
New launches with vegan claims have seen a substantial rise and are barreling toward the mainstream. Innova Market Insights notes a 23 percent annual growth of food and beverage launches tracked with vegan claims (Global, 2015 to 2019). Moreover, vegan food is becoming more significant, with more than one in four global consumers saying vegan alternative food launches are most sustainable (Innova Market Insights Survey Global, 2019).
“Innovation in the category over the years has been focused on creating taste and texture to meet meat-eaters’ expectations. However, as consumers’ growing awareness of health and demand to know what is in their products accelerates, we expect there to be a big focus on renovating current products in the market to reposition as ‘clean label’ for 2020,” Darren O’Sullivan, Director Plant-Based Foods, Europe and Russia at Kerry, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
Moreover, the definition of a plant-based diet is becoming increasingly flexible, according to Outi Armstrong, Head of Global Marketing Communications, Human Nutrition and Health at DSM. It offers the option of “part-time veganism.”
For example, Veganuary gains popularity year on year and a DSM Consumer Insights Report (2018-2019) revealed a spike in removing meat from particular meals of the day like breakfast and lunch, notes Armstrong. “Our research shows that the plant-based lifestyle is becoming increasingly normal,” she flags.
“Nowadays, a lot of people are flexitarians, meaning they try to include as much plant-based food in their diet as possible to take advantage of the health benefits,” Andie Long, Marketing and Sales Manager at AstaReal, comments. “Supermarket shelves are full of plant-based foods these days. It all started with alternative dairy products – milks in particular. Soy, almond and oat-based milks are already quite established. Many more items, such as energy bars, snack foods and confectionery products, have been repositioned or reformulated as plant-based.”
Flexitarians in the driver’s seat
According to Fiona Sweeney, Strategic Marketing Director, Europe and Russia at Kerry, the flexitarian consumer is the driving force plant-based food growth, who needs to do better for people and the planet.
“As we see it, the flexitarian consumer group holds the largest opportunity for growth. This consumer group eats both plant-based and animal-based products but has multi-layered and complex motivators. For example, some flexitarians adopt this type of diet for their health, or environmental reasons while some are doing it in support of animal rights and an overall greater sense of purpose. Motivations for adopting a flexitarian diet are the main things that we see differences between consumers, no matter what market they are in,” she explains.
Vaughn DuBow, Marketing Manager, Americas CHI at Lonza, agrees with this notion. “People push the industry to change and mold their products based upon demand. Lonza began working on plant-based initiatives many years ago when we realized that we could make sustainable products that could meet consumer needs and simultaneously match or exceed traditional animal-based products. Our internal market research showed an overwhelming demand from consumers for plant-based items and the rest is history,” he asserts.
Consumers have multiple motivations to add plant-based products to their diets and their purchases, either incrementally [adopting a more flexitarian approach to mealtimes] or, more radically, flags Armstrong of DSM. These include health and wellness considerations, sustainability and environmental considerations, alongside other ethical and personal convictions, including religion and animal welfare. “A further factor is ingredient novelty, with many people keen to expand their menu options and add new experiences alongside their ‘old favorites,’” she notes.
Moreover, DSM research revealed that the most significant driver behind the adoption of plant-based diets is health considerations. “The science is clear: a varied diet that includes a wide selection of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and lean meats is good for overall health. Swapping out meat or dairy a few times a week allows consumers to incorporate a greater variety of plant foods in their diets,” Armstrong explains.
And sustainability is not far behind. “The next eating trend has already started in the form of “climatarians,” she continues, “Flexitarians who are well-informed on environmental issues and very conscious of the impact of food production and consumption on our planet.”
Long of AstaReal maintains that plant-based innovation continues to flourish which ties into the broader consumer lifestyle trend towards cleaner living and eating. “We see that sustainability expectations are driving plant-based sourcing – particularly as consumers are increasingly concerned about the origins of their products. The global food and nutraceutical industries are therefore looking for plant-based sources of traditional ingredients such as antioxidants, and they are starting to focus on algae. Almost at the bottom of the marine food chain, microalgae supply astaxanthin and omega 3 fatty acids to fish and krill, which represent a sustainable as well as a vegetarian alternative to both,” she comments.
Moreover, the plant-based trend is profoundly rooted in environmental awareness and the feeling that we are contributing to the overall planet sustainability when we have a more abundant plant-based diet. According to Miguel Martinho, Marketing Manager in Europe of Kemin Human Nutrition and Health, “each market has its specificities and buying power, culture and lifestyle are aspects, which can facilitate the fast growth and adoption of this trend.”
“Consumers today have easy access to information and traceability plays an important role in consumers’ value perception. They are interested to know about the story of the plant-based ingredient and how we were able to diminish negative impacts and have worked toward a neutral, sustainable environmental process of cultivation, manufacturing and delivering our ingredients to the market. As we further develop the plant-based origin and solve some of the challenges, I see an even higher consumer interest in safe, efficient and natural plant-based ingredients in more aspects of their diets,” Martinho explains.
“Awareness and adoption of plant-based alternatives are becoming increasingly mainstream,” Armstrong of DSM adds. “High profile product introductions in retail and Quick Service Restaurant channels have catapulted alternatives into the headlines and under the spotlight. With both the eating experience and the back of pack labeling being scrutinized more closely by fans and critics alike.”
“The development of plant-based proteins is complex and requires expertise and often multiple technical solutions to overcome the taste, texture, succulence and nutrition challenges,” Sweeney of Kerry concludes.
By Elizabeth Green, with additional reporting from Katherine Durrell
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