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Growth of the Plant-based market: The Drivers, Opportunities and Challenges

Customers have started to lean towards more ethical, environmental, and health-conscious choices whilst shopping for groceries. As a result, we have all seen the shelf space dedicated to plant-based food and drink in supermarkets grow before our eyes in just the last few years.

A report by Mintel shows that the UK sales of meat-free products have seen a remarkable growth of 40%, from £582 million in 2014 to an estimated £816 million in 2019; and are expected to be in excess of £1.1 billion by 2024. The UK plant-based milk alternatives market was also valued at £260 million in 2019 and is expected to increase by more than double by 2025 to £565 million.

The global market for Plant-based meat is also projected to increase from US$ 13.6 Billion in 2020 to US$35 Billion in 2027, growing at a CAGR of 14.4%.

Plant based food

While this has created a significant level of competition and disruption to the meat and dairy industry, it is also an opportunity for food manufacturers to adapt and compete. We had a look at the drivers of the exponential growth in the plant-based market, and the opportunities and challenges these present for food and drink manufacturers.

Drivers of the plant-based market growth

Whilst plant-based products have been around for many decades, this sector has rapidly grown in popularity in recent years due to various factors.

Environmental issues

The production of animal protein requires a lot of land and water, releasing 10x more greenhouse emissions than that of plant-based meat alternatives. This, as suggested by Meticulous Market Research, has opened a great opportunity for plant-based products that are high in nutrition and more environmentally sustainable. As people learn more about environmental issues, they are being drawn towards a plant-based lifestyle.

 

Ethical and health concerns

Potential health benefits of plant-based diets is an important factor in the rise of the market. This has been amplified further during the pandemic with health and wellbeing becoming as higher priority for many, leading to a change in attitudes and accelerating the rate of plant-based diet adoption.

Some of the benefits are:

• Lower blood pressure and better overall heath
• Reduced risks of various health problems such as heart diseases, Type 2 Diabetes, Stroke and Cancer
• Help lose or maintain weight

In addition to this, the increase in the number of lactose-intolerant people contributes to the growth of plant-based alternatives in the dairy market.

Increased awareness around animal welfare and the way animals are treated in food production have also caused a switch in customer preferences, according to Deloitte.

Emergence of Flexitarians

The term “Flexitarian” refers to people who still consume meat and poultry but at a lower quantity due to the concerns mentioned above. Although the number of vegans and vegetarians has increased in recent years, flexitarians are said to be a vital contribution to the rise of the plant-based market.

Taste

Taste is the main barrier to moving to a plant-based diet for meat eaters due to the lack of similarity in the taste and texture of plant-based alternatives to traditional meat and dairy products. As demand for meat alternatives increases, many companies have invested in new technology and have developed meat and dairy free products that more closely fulfil these requirements. For example, Beyond Meat is constantly expanding across Europe having successfully designed plant based products that closely match the texture and taste of animal based product.

Big brands joining the trend

Key players in the food and drink market have started to develop plant-based food options after noticing disruptions caused by small-scale plant-based companies. Some examples of this are Nestle launching Vegan KitKat and Unilever announcing their long-term and extensive plant-based plans. Supermarkets such as Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury have also launched and continued to expand their own plant-based product lines.

Media

The media plays a vital role in the shift in customers’ preferences, by following the plant-based industry closely, helping to fuel its growth. People have more knowledge of the benefits of following a more plant-based diet, and are more aware of alternatives that are available, thanks to media advertising both digitally and offline.

Opportunities and challenges for manufacturers

The plant-based trend offers the chance for manufacturers to change up the food and beverage industry, which has experienced stable conditions with minimal change around key product categories for some time.

There are challenges to consider when entering the market. Making plant-based and vegan claims on food products can be complicated and requires robust controls. Furthermore, in order to build the same taste and texture, plant-based products usually have lengthy list of ingredients and can be high in salt and sugar content. These factors can prevent consumers from trying and adopting the products in this market.Despite significant improvements made in the taste and texture of plant-based products, it still remains a barrier for many people to adopt a plant-base diet. This is not only a challenge but also a opportunity for manufacturers to focus on product innovation to develop and compete in the plant-based market.

Key figures in the plant-based market have voiced their concerns about the lack of facilities and infrastructures of manufacturing plants, emphasising the need to diversify and reduce the risk of cross-contamination to meet the rising demand.

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