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As readers of this publication will be aware, the plant-based food market has witnessed a sharp growth in demand worldwide as awareness of the benefits of alternative diets rises. On a mission to live a healthier lifestyle with minimal impact on the planet, consumers are increasingly limiting their animal product consumption to follow a wholesome diet, such as flexitarianism, vegetarianism or veganism. Alternative food options are, as a result, growing in popularity, presenting an opportunity for food, beverage and supplements manufacturers to tap into the plant-based trend. Questions, however, remain over the quality, taste and texture of these solutions.
The rise of plant-based
Plant-based alternatives span across a number of industries, with substitutes available for anything from meat and dairy to vitamin ingredients and capsule coatings. The strong growth shown by these markets is remarkable; the dairy-free market, for example, expanded from approximately US$2 billion in 2013 to an estimated US$17.3 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach US$29.6 billion by 2023.1 Similarly, the meat-substitute market has shown exceptional growth. In 2012, the total sales of plant-based proteins amounted to US$553 million, but by 2019, the value of this market had jumped to US$1.6 billion. Growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12%, it is anticipated to reach US$3.5 billion by 2026.2,3
The challenges ahead
A driving force behind this growth is consumers’ increased awareness of the potential health benefits of a reduced meat diet combined with a better understanding of the environmental impact of consuming animal products, and the rise in demand for plant-based solutions shows no sign of slowing down.4 However, producers are now under pressure to develop products that provide the quality, taste and texture expected by consumers. 15% of global consumers now identify as flexitarian, which means they limit — but not eliminate — meat from their diet.5 Combine this with the 23% of global consumers who are concerned about the taste of plant-based food, and it becomes clear that producers must create plant-based substitutes that provide an eating experience that matches that of eating meat if they are to succeed in an increasingly crowded marketplace.6,7
In addition, manufacturers must align their products with the health-positioning expected by today’s discerning consumers. Given their motivation to go animal-free to follow a wholesome diet, people are unlikely to purchase plant-based alternatives for meat or dairy if they are heavily processed or contain large amounts of salt, sugar or fat. A UK-based study, for instance, found that 28% of meat alternatives have very high salt levels, many of which exceed those of meat products.8
The ‘health halo’ effect currently observed in the plant-based food, beverage and dietary supplements markets — whereby buyers believe that these options are healthier simply because they do not contain animal products — is likely to fade in the light of the clean label movement. Predominantly an industry-led term, ‘clean label’ describes consumers’ wish to understand what is in the products they purchase, with an ever-rising number of people checking product labels for both ingredients they are familiar with and those they recognize to be healthy. This means that producers must ensure the health factor associated with plant-based alternatives can live up to the expectations of an increasingly critical society to not only meet demand, but establish an industry-leading position.
At this year’s Vitafoods Europe, we are aiming to provide a platform that encourages the industry to come together and develop practical solutions for a variety of challenges, including how to create plant-based foods, beverages and dietary supplements that create a strong appeal and ensure optimal health for consumers. As a meeting point for the nutraceutical community and with over 25,000 industry experts set to attend, Vitafoods Europe 2020 will allow all stakeholders to easily navigate the plant-based domain — using science to fuel product innovation and development. We hope you will be able to join us in Geneva in September and look forward to as many of you as possible joining the debate.
Foreword by Chris Lee,
Managing Director, Health and Nutrition Network, Europe,
at Informa Markets