Where next for plant-based in 2020? ADM shares top trend predictions for the category

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

©GettyImages /  bhofack2
©GettyImages / bhofack2

Related tags plant-based Adm plant-based protein

The total retail market for plant-based foods in the US was worth nearly $4.5bn* in 2019 with dollar sales growing at 31% over the past two years compared to 4% for US retail total dollar food sales. And according to global ingredients supplier ADM, 2020 is "going to be another breakout year for the category."

Better-performing and better-tasting plant-based proteins will drive much of the category growth in 2020 as more US consumers identify as 'flexitarian' and seek out products with plant-based protein credentials, predicted Kurt Long, director of flexitarian solutions at ADM, who said ADM’s recent OutsideVoice Protein Perception & Awareness Study revealed that 44% of US consumers now identify as flexitarian.

“We expect to see even more new and enhanced protein options hit the shelves in the coming months, and to get an edge in this growing space, manufacturers have to respond quickly with on-trend products. This is an area where ADM is ready and eager to help,” ​noted Long.  

However, no longer a nascent trend, flexitarian consumers are demanding more out of products made from plant-based proteins and increasingly expect not to have make any sacrifices, especially when it come to taste.

“What consumers really want now in the alternative protein space is…everything. They want taste. They want texture. And they want nutrition,”​ said Shelley Rudisill, ADM’s manager of product development and applications. "At the end of the day, if it doesn't taste great, they may just end up eating meat."

ADM's plant-based protein predictions for 2020:

Protein plus

"While plant-based, front-of-package claims used to focus on the number of protein grams per serving, in 2020, consumers will be looking for more. “Protein Plus” is the name of the game, and in order to play, manufacturers must expand nutritional benefits with function-forward health features, like added fiber, antioxidants, probiotics and vitamins. These functional benefits don’t just drive demand; they also command a higher price point. Research shows consumers are willing to pay a premium for products higher in protein, fiber, whole grains, and vitamins,"​ said ADM.

Nutrition matters, but taste rules

According to ADM, research shows that while consumers are drawn to plant-based proteins for their nutritional benefits, but they won’t fully incorporate products into their repertoires if they don’t deliver on taste and texture.

"This is the year to expect more products to be formulated with plant-based blends — such as soy or pea combined with beans, seeds or ancient grains — to deliver the craveable flavor that consumers demand. While formulating with the right proteins is a must in 2020, exceptional flavor will be driven by true culinary expertise,"​ said the ingredients supplier. 

Meaty innovations

Burgers led the plant-based protein craze in 2019, but in the coming year, new proteins will start to take center stage. The market is seeing an increase in alternatives to chicken, sausage, and seafood​, noted ADM.

"Because taste matters, the key to success with these new products is achieving a flavor and texture similar to their animal-based inspirations."

Keeping it clean

According to ADM's OutsideVoice Protein Perception & Awareness Study, 60% of consumers say recognizable ingredients influence their purchase decision, and 66% say they are looking for labels with the shortest ingredient list.

"In 2020, these numbers are likely to rise, meaning successful plant-based formulations must have shorter, more familiar ingredient lists that rely only on all-natural ingredient sources such as beans, lentils, whole legumes, quinoa, amaranth and sorghum,"​ said the company.

Dairy alternatives grow

ADM said the industry can expect to see continued plant-based innovation in the dairy case, building on the momentum of the past few years.

According to SPINS data*, retail sales of plant-based cheese have already grown 19%; plant-based ice cream and novelties have grown 27%; and plant-based yogurt has grown by 39%.

ADM commented, "While growth has been prevalent in the space, there is significant opportunity for formulators to leverage improved flavor and texture of products to drive even wider consumer interest in the year ahead."

Even more in store brands

Private-label brands have achieved significant growth with organic and natural products -- 85% of consumers say they trust private labels, and 81% say they purchase private-label products on every shopping trip.

"This is a space that’s primed for plant-based products to drive even more growth."

Comfort is king

"As meat analogs become more common, a growing opportunity in the plant-based category will be comfort food. Consumers — especially those with children — will be looking for plant-based versions of family-friendly foods, including chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, and pizza,"​ ADM added. 

*SPINSscan Natural and Specialty Gourmet, and SPINSscan Conventional Multi Outlet (powered by IRI) channels during the 52 weeks ending April 21, 2019

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Soy, wheat, and peas currently dominate the plant-based meat market, but what’s next? 

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