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What six trends will drive plant-based growth in 2021?

2 min read
AUTHOR: Matt Ridout

It’s no secret that plant-based food and drink has been a huge focus of growth across the world. With more retailers offering increased shelf space, and more new products hitting the market every week, what trends will we see in the year ahead in plant-based food? Tasting the Future, a sustainable food systems consultancy offers up six possibilities.

High protein leguminous crops

“Legumes are valued worldwide as a sustainable and inexpensive meat alternative and are considered one of the most important food sources of plant-based proteins and micro-nutrients. Legumes are nutritionally valuable, providing proteins (20–45%) with essential amino acids, complex carbohydrates (approx. 60%) and dietary fibre (5–30%). In addition, their ability to fix nitrogen and improve soil health, offers a significant opportunity to improve both human and planetary health whilst contributing to food security, particularly within low- and middle-income countries.”

Some leguminous crops which we’ll be seeing drive plant-based growth in 2021 include chickpeas, lentils, groundnuts and millets.

Immune System Boosting Plant Ingredients and Diets

“There are signs that citizens are increasingly making the link between gut and immune health with an increase in the purchase of probiotics for example. Recent research by MMR found that immunity was the top health concern for people in China and South Africa. There is a large body of evidence highlighting that diets based on more plants, including vegetables, nuts, and wholegrains, combined with lifestyle choices, can have an anti-inflammatory effect and can boost immunity. Ingredients that claim to support sleep and mental wellness also seem to be gaining more traction in recent months.”

More attention on the sustainability and health credentials of plant-based foods

“Plant-based foods will draw more attention from a health and sustainability perspective. Just because they are plant-based do not assume, they are either healthy or sustainable. There is already a backlash in some quarters against plant-based and vegan diets. The huge rise on plant-based meat substitutes and claims of both significant health and sustainability benefits will be increasingly challenged. There are some significant questions for which I expect to see more focus in 2021. Plant-based meat substitutes with high saturated fats and sugars will be increasingly challenged from a health perspective. Whilst plant-based foods are generally better from a sustainability perspective, don’t think you can rest on your laurels with regards to sustainability. In fact you need to ensure greater attention and focus is given to mitigating sustainability impacts. Is almond milk more sustainable than extensive and perhaps regenerative dairy systems? If you are business promoting and advocating for plant-based foods, especially plant-based meat replacements, then expect greater interrogation and scrutiny of your sustainability and health credentials and claims.”

Renewed Focus on Taste and Texture

“Taste and texture will remain key priorities for plant-based product developers over the next few years. Although dramatic improvements have been made, much more remains to be done. Taste and texture remain significant technological and customer acceptability barriers to more plant-based eating, particularly when tapping into the flexitarian market. Further innovation in both meat and dairy substitutes is the key to growth in this market. Technological advances will continue to enable plant-based alternatives, such as soy, peas, and nuts, to taste somewhat like meat or dairy-based products (for example the use of extrusion technologies). Some researchers are focused on developing new manufacturing technologies to bio mimic animal meat whilst others are identifying new ways to mix plant ingredients to create a fibrous texture.”

Plant-based Meals at Home

“In the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and ongoing impact that has had of the food service sector, expect to see more options for those who want to enjoy their favourite restaurant- plant-based foods from the comfort of the home. Plant based recipe boxes, delivery companies and those specialising in plant-based meal kits could do well. Companies such as AllPlants are tapping into the plant-based delivery market and others are in the process of being launched over the coming months.”

Novel Plant Based Foods

“Plant-based fermented foods, cheeses, fish, chicken, and milks are some of those plant-based ingredients that will gain increasing traction and market share:

Fermented Foods – Fermented foods are foods and beverages that have undergone controlled microbial growth and fermentation – products include tempeh, miso, kimchi, and sauerkraut which are also showing signs of market growth. They also include algae which offer an excellent source of protein, which opens a lot of opportunities in the production of meat analogues.

Cheeses – Plant-based cheeses have not made the same impact on the plant-based market as the alternatives to milk or meats for example. There are some signs of change with new plant-based cheeses coming on stream. One example are those cheeses being developed for Pizza toppings for example – often plant based cheeses do not behave in the same way when heated as say your traditional mozzarella cheeses.

Dairy and Soya Milk Alternatives – Oat milk sales are likely to continue to rise rapidly and outstrip growth of other plant-based milks throughout 2021. There has been some backlash over soya in recent months as a result of an unjustified association between soya and deforestation in the Amazon ( most soya from South America goes to animal feed and soya sourced for human consumption tends to be sourced from North America, Europe or Asia). This perceived association is likely to dampen demand for soya milks and impact on other soya-based foods.

Plant-based fish – This is perhaps the newest frontier of plant-based innovation. More plant-based fish products, particularly replicating fish species such as tuna and salmon will appear on our supermarket shelves and within food service over the next 12 months. Watch out for companies such as Hooked and Good Catch, just two of dozens of companies seeking to launch new seafood products on the market. Others to watch are Vuna, a brand launched by Nestle which is producing is tapping into the plant-based Tuna market creating a product’ the rich flavour and flaky texture of tuna.

Plant-based chicken – Plant based chicken is a trend which will see accelerated growth into 2021. There is increasing attention on the sustainability impacts of chicken which will be a key driver for this trend – see my recent blog ‘ From Jungle Fowl to Jungle Fowl: Chicken Sustainability‘ Whilst plant based chicken may have been slower to enter markets than beef we are starting to see brands such as KFC enter the plant based market with the launch of their ‘beyond fried chicken‘ range. Up and coming brands to watch out for in the coming months include Gardein, Torfurky and Alpha Foods plant based nugget.”

Find out more about food trends from Tasting the Future here.