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MEGATREND: Plant-based eating: Nearly seven of 10 Americans trying to increase plant protein consumption

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Get used to feeling “green” because plant-based eating and diets are here to stay. The past several years witnessed the steady growth of a plant-forward movement that is shifting food and beverage markets not just in North America but around the world. All forecasts predict a bright future for plant-based products -- a food and beverage megatrend that spans across other key trends shaping the food and beverage industry from convenience to clean label and from health & wellness to e-commerce.

A Growth Market

Innova Market Insights data shows that the number of new food and beverage launches tracked with plant-based claims in the U.S. witnessed a 54 percent CAGR from 2013 to 2017. Split between foods and beverages, plant-based food product introductions grew at 69 percent in the five-year period, while plant-based beverages witnessed a 38 percent increase. Plant protein claims specifically, have increased 300 percent for new food and beverage product launches since 2013.

According to the International Food Information Council, 21 percent of all Americans said they have an improved opinion about the healthfulness of plant proteins, and 69 percent are trying to consume more, a figure that coincides with the introduction of plant-based product introductions. While plant-based product development and introductions roll out across the globe, North Americans consumed more plant-based proteins than any other region in 2017 and this trend is expected to continue.

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Green Demographics

In the U.S., interest in plant-based foods spans generational groups, however consumers in their 20s and 30s are most interested in participating in a plant-based dietary plan. Within the last two years according to a HealthFocus International study, 52 percent of consumers have made dietary changes to include more plant-based foods and beverages, and an even higher number, 57 percent, see this as a permanent change vs. just 14 percent who are experimenting.

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Overall, Americans are decreasing but not eliminating animal-based foods, following a flexitarian rather than vegan or vegetarian eating plan. Plant-based adopters say the lifestyle has food that tastes better and is healthier than vegan. In addition, according to HealthFocus, a permanent change to an increase in plant-based foods is more likely among those reducing but not eliminating animal products in their diets.

Primary Drivers

Top Ten Trends

The 10 key trends shaping the food and beverage industry, all of which tie into the plant-forward movement, include: 

  • Clean, simple labels
  • Digestive health & microbiome
  • Protein diversification
  • Low/Reduced sugar
  • Purposeful snacking
  • Super convenience
  • Healthy indulgence
  • Changing demographics
  • E-Commerce
  • Safety & transparency

The three primary drivers behind choosing a plant-based diet or foods are daily living benefits, health-related benefits and socially-driven benefits.

Under daily living, consumer interests include:

  • eating a healthier product
  • avoiding toxic chemicals
  • finding more energy
  • improving digestion
  • clean eating or safer foods/beverages

Under the health benefits, consumers are interested in:

  • heart health
  • preventing illness
  • building strong bones
  • living longer
  • improving skin health

What is interesting here is that research shows health and social benefits actually tie together. Health is a primary motivator for a switch to plant-forward foods, however this doesn’t just encompass personal health, but health in a much broader sense -- health of the environment.

Under social benefits consumers might lean on the following reasons for a switch to plant-based products:

  • sustainability
  • lifestyle preference
  • the environment
  • ethical treatment of animals
  • family/peer group influence

Market Upsides

The strong growth in new product launches for plant-based and plant-protein based foods and beverages between 2013 and 2017 continued into 2018 and shows no signs of letting up. Small companies continue to lead new product launch activity and sales volume but watch that space as more and more companies compete. The number of companies launching food and beverage products with plant-based claims in the U.S. saw a 37 percent CAGR from 2013 to 2017.

Although statistics show consumers perceive fewer health-related benefits from plant-based beverages than they do plant-based foods, beverages and sports nutrition powders are top categories for new product launches. Altogether, active categories for launches include cereal, energy and sports bars, protein powders (sports, general health and wellness) meat substitutes and dairy alternatives.

Among several product categories, the plant protein supplements market growth remains robust as it moves mainstream. Nielsen 52-week data shows plant-based supplements experienced a 51 percent year-over-year growth of $76 million in sales over that period out of $927 million in sales for the overall protein supplement category. As a comparison, the overall category saw year-over-year growth of 15 percent.

Label claims, such as clean label (GMO- and gluten-free) and protein claims are the positioning statements most often used on plant and plant-protein based products. And in terms of positioning statements, ethics and convenience rise to the top as fastest growing as a percentage of new food and beverage launches by year with plant-based claims. Although soy protein is the common “workhorse” in all food and beverage launches, pea and rice are top choices for “plant-based” or “plant protein” positioned products.

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A clever marketing strategy can be to add plant-based ingredients where there is a natural fit—and where there is not. Pushing the limits, experimentation and creativity will help form a “new normal” for added plant-based ingredients in categories where they are less common, and it could pay market dividends.

Ingredient Options

As plant-based protein ingredients reach a greater level of sophistication, formulation experts, such as those at DuPont can offer blends or suggestions for blends that supply a complete profile of essential amino acids, while offering a broad suite of functional properties as well. Functionality, nutritional profile and consumer perception all play a role in plant-protein selection as consumer opinions about various plant proteins can differ.

Pea is the fastest growing among newly introduced plant protein, followed by rice, according to Innova Market Insights. However, overwhelmingly, soy remains the top plant protein source for new food and beverage launches between 2013 to 2017.

Overall, a DuPont Nutrition & Health proprietary global research study conducted by Martec that examined protein perception found soy and pea protein have the highest positive consumer perception among plant proteins by a strong margin. Research conducted by Ipsos showed that soy and pea protein are perceived as “natural” by U.S. consumers, with soy protein in a strong first place compared to a long list of other possible ingredients, as related in a 2017 Ipsos survey. But don’t count out other plant proteins just yet, as the DuPont/Martec survey indicated consumers are interested in trying a food or beverage that contains brown rice, oat or again soy protein, as an ingredient.

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Cultivating the Right Strategy

Plant protein experts at DuPont can offer guidance when selecting the right plant protein ingredient, or as is being practiced more widely in today’s market, the right blend of plant protein ingredients. Plant protein blends of two or more varieties can supply greater functionality, a more complete amino acid profile that mimics animal-based nutritional models and also supply more targeted mouthfeel and texture in the finished application. The right blend can help maintain a clean label image as well.

Beyond a broad ingredient portfolio however, DuPont Nutrition & Health delivers value far beyond its product listing. We have a solver mindset that helps turn customer challenges into opportunities. Our global presence and insights can help your products make an impact in any market, especially when considering our blend of knowledge in food science, nutrition and market dynamics. Finally, DuPont is committed to sustainability, from products that are sustainably sourced, produced and distributed to facilitating food waste reduction and improving production and distribution efficiencies. Make DuPont your partner for a greener world.