Interest in plant-based protein intensifies

by Keith Nunes
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Impossible Burger
Impossible Foods is tapping consumer interest in preserving the environment as a point of differentiation.
 

KANSAS CITY — The market for plant-based protein is advancing well beyond its previously defined space in beverages and sports nutrition. As consumers continue to express an interest in such ingredients, opportunities are opening in a variety of categories, including bakery, dairy alternatives and more.

Kara Nielsen, vice-president of trends and marketing for CCD Innovation, Inc., Emeryville, Calif., said plant-based proteins are bringing new consumers to the market for products featuring the nutrient.

Kara Nielsen, trendologist
Kara Nielsen, vice-president of trends and marketing for CCD Innovation

“These people may be vegans, people with allergies or people who are looking for alternatives that are innovative and interesting,” she said. “They are taking the generic protein trend in a new direction.”

That new direction was prominently on display this past September during the Natural Products Expo East trade show that was held in Baltimore Sept. 13-16. By 2020, global sales of plant-based dairy and meat alternatives are forecast to reach $19.5 billion and $5 billion, respectively, said Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant Based Foods Association, San Francisco, during a presentation at the show.

Sweet Earth Foods
In September, Nestle USA agreed to acquire Sweet Earth, a manufacturer of plant-based frozen meals, burritos, breakfast sandwiches and chilled plant-based burgers and proteins. 

“Big food companies are taking notice of the success of this industry,” she said, pointing to several acquisitions announced in the past year, including recent deals by Nestle and Dean Foods. This past September, Nestle S.A., Vevey, Switzerland, acquired Sweet Earth, a manufacturer of plant-based foods, including frozen meals, burritos, breakfast sandwiches and burgers. Earlier in the year, the Dean Foods Co., Dallas, entered into a partnership with Good Karma Foods, a manufacturer of plant-based products made with flaxseed.

Driven by health, environmental and animal welfare concerns, more than a third of Americans buy plant-based meat alternatives, and just over a quarter of consumers said they ate less animal meat in the past year, Ms. Simon said.

Good Karma flax milk
Dean Foods took a minority stake in Good Karma Foods in May.

Ms. Nielsen said consumers shifting from animal-based proteins to plant-based proteins may be an issue related to “higher order trends.”

“What is more important when choosing a product?” she asked. “For certain consumers, especially vegans, it is more important that it is vegan. That’s part of the reason why you are seeing vegan yogurts and other products like them.”

Ms. Nielsen added that a company like Impossible Foods, Redwood City, Calif., is also capitalizing on such higher-order trends. Impossible Foods manufactures a plant-based burger that has the taste and texture of a meat-based product.

Impossible Burger
Impossible Foods manufactures a plant-based burger that has the taste and texture of a meat-based product.
 

“They (Impossible Foods) are offering meat eaters an alternative that is not made from meat,” Ms. Nielsen said. “Their issue is the environment; it’s all part of their story.”

The market for plant-based products and proteins has momentum. In the past year, plant-based meat and dairy alternatives in the United States grew 8.1%, topping $3.1 billion in sales, according to Nielsen data commissioned by the Plant Based Foods Association and the Good Food Institute. During the period, milk alternatives grew 3.1%, while sales of cow’s milk declined 5%.

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