Lewis Hamilton, Simon Cowell, Bill Clinton and half of Hollywood have recently announced their dedication to a plant-based diet. Veganism and vegetarianism are not new. What is new, is how we perceive these lifestyle choices and the sheer number of plant-based foods on offer to us.
As the appeal of plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy continue to grow, vegetable producers are presented with a new, highly lucrative market receiving heavy investment in preparation for enormous growth.
Plant-based diet trend fuelling demand for vegetable proteins
We are re-writing our narrative surrounding the practice of not eating animal products. Only a few years ago, vegetarians were seen as eccentric while vegans often inspired the harshest judgement, even ostracism.
To most of us, the idea of living without meat, milk and cheese was absurd. These were, after all, our main sources of protein, the building blocks of life. Eating meat is natural and essential, was the mantra of the masses.
Today, according to research by US market data company, NDP Group, this has changed. In a recent article for Feed Strategy, David Portalatin, NDP Group’s VP and Food / Beverage industry adviser, said:
“14 per cent of the US population consumes plant-based alternatives on a regular basis. This is important because 86 per cent of those do not consider themselves to be vegan or vegetarian. Plant-based protein consumption is going mainstream.”
We are opting for plant-based meat and dairy alternatives for many reasons. Old-school vegans focused mainly on animal welfare, even to the point of activism to underline their dietary choices. Today’s plant-based eaters, while concerned about animal welfare, are also concerned with health, the environment and sustainability.
These consumers often still identify as meat-eaters, yet also want to adopt a lifestyle that will promote their own wellbeing and the long-term health of the planet. For them, it is not necessarily about avoiding all meat products, but rather about introducing plant-based products wherever possible.
This trend reflects a growing concern around ‘mega trend’ forecasts of climate change. We are facing unprecedented challenges in terms of population growth and how to increase food production by 70% from finite natural resources, in order to feed us all. In the face of these enormous challenges, consumers are increasingly asking ‘what can I do?’
One of the simplest changes we can make is to eat more vegetables and less meat. According to PETA, it requires almost 20 times more land to feed meat-eaters than it does to feed people a plant-based diet. Now that plant-based foods increasingly mimic our resource-heavy, animal derived staples, we are changing our view of what a healthy, balanced diet really means.
The growth in commercial plant-protein production
It is easy to see how our changing attitude to eating habits has brought new products to market. Some of our favourite protein-rich foods such as cheese, milk, eggs and yoghurt are now diminishing in popularity as soy, coconut, oat, rice, hemp and nut-based alternatives fill up the shelves.
In the meat sector, companies such as Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Neat Burger are taking on carnivores at the final frontier: chicken and beef alternatives. These products are light years ahead of the original veggie burger or sausage, imitating our favourite qualities of animal meat in taste, texture and even juiciness of animal meat, with 20g of protein per serving.
The difference is science. These new businesses have identified the molecular components of meat, sourced the necessary molecules from various plants and reconstructed them to make a substance that is scientifically meat - without involving any animal at all.
The key, says David Benzaquen, founder and CEO of PlantBased Solutions, is to continue altering human perception with quality products. “You make something desirable, so people want in.”
How no-compromise products are creating opportunities in plant-based food sector
This idea of creating products that carry no compromise in taste is driving enormous investment in plant-based foods, as profits demonstrate their popularity.
UK high street bakery, Greggs, saw its half-year profits rise 58% in 2019 thanks to the introduction of a delicious vegan sausage roll - and its subsequent viral reach on social media.
Meanwhile European nutritional ingredient and food enhancement specialists, Beneo, announced it is investing €4.3million in a new production plant for vegetal protein.
Lewis Hamilton is not only a meat-free eater, he is also a plant-based investor, recently announcing his association with Neat Burgers; billed as the vegan alternative to McDonald’s and Five Guys.
Beyond Meat too is reaping the rewards of years of R&D, as it recently saw its stock gain almost 40%, beating performance predictions. Overall, the price is up around 400% since its IPO.
Plant-based proteins are also being used in highly rated sports bars and protein powders, with corn protein poised to join the party by 2022.
The short story is, plant-based diets are creating brand new opportunities for vegetable producers able to create new product streams to meet demands. And achieving an operational model to facilitate this is easier than you may think.
Adapting vegetable production processes to profit and reduce waste
The best part about adapting your operational processes to profit from the plant-based protein trend is that you will reduce waste as well.
Creating multiple product streams is the key. If you currently employ binary ‘good / waste’ grading, there are definitely potential profits lying in your waste pile.
Start with these key considerations:
- Check your capacity and understand where your bottlenecks lie
It’s easy to overspend on technology before you need it. Understand the areas you need to prioritize for improvement and your optimum investment levels in terms of your capacity. This will help you make the best decisions for your business.
- Replace manual processes wherever possible
It is a simple fact that machines are better inspectors than humans. If you are looking at entering the plant-based protein market, it’s critical to have the technology in place that allows you to sort and grade your products correctly. Serious competitors in this space only use automated inspection processes
- Choose technology that is easy to use
Make sure any new technology you invest in is easy to use and you can pick it up and run with it immediately. Long-term promises of great results soon turn to expensive frustrations if technology proves too complex for practical use.