ANAHEIM, CALIF. — Plant-based food and beverage sales in the past year exceeded $3.7 billion in the United States, rising 17% over the prior year, according to data from the Good Food Institute. Driving the market for meat, dairy and egg replacements are products positioned not for vegans or vegetarians but for the mainstream population, said Caroline Bushnell, associate director of corporate engagement at the Washington-based Good Food Institute.
“Thirty per cent or about a third of consumers are actively trying to reduce their meat consumption, but they don’t want to sacrifice taste,” Ms. Bushnell said during a presentation at Natural Products Expo West, held March 5-9 in Anaheim. “As companies continue to develop better and better tasting alternatives that don’t require compromise and are healthier and allow those consumers to make that choice, that’s what we’re really seeing drive the growth.”
While fads tend to rise quickly and may be isolated within a certain region, trends grow gradually over time and occur in multiple regions, Ms. Bushnell said.
“When you look at the introduction of vegan product claims over the last 20 years, you see a steady rise year over year, and you see it happening in regions across the world,” she said. “That all comes together to tell us this is a real consumer shift.”
A key to expanding growth of plant-based food and beverage products is merchandising alongside conventional offerings. This strategy has drawn more consumers to plant-based milk alternatives, which now command 13% market share of all milk sales, Ms. Bushnell said.
“They need to be available where the consumer’s shopping, so not just at that store, but at the part of the store where they’re shopping,” she said. “They need to be accessible — so think familiarity in the flavors. Meat substitutes for most consumers should be meaty. There is a smaller segment of vegetarian consumers that want a burger that tastes very veggie, but when you’re thinking for the masses, make it familiar, like the sausage, or the bacon or the burger they normally eat.”
While mainstream consumers may choose plant-based foods for health reasons, products should not be marketed as healthy, Ms. Bushnell noted.
“The whole category benefits from already having this consumer knowledge and this general health halo, so you don’t need to spend all of your packaging space or your marketing talking about health,” she said. “Consumers already know that. What they’re skeptical of and what is often a barrier is how this product is going to taste. Lead with taste. Use subtle cues or maybe some sort of certifications to indicate health, but don’t overcommunicate the health aspect. It’s already there. And when something is too healthy, consumers make the assumption that it’s not going to taste good.”
Consumers also seek authenticity and whole-food ingredients in plant-based alternatives, said Daniel Karsevar, chief executive officer of PlantBased Solutions, New York.
“We know the new tech veggie burger is great and exciting, and everyone wants to talk about it… look what can happen with just getting into new vegetables, new grains, looking for a little more biodiversity in your ingredients, and then you can have something new to say and a new way to share with everyone,” Mr. Karsevar said. “We’re seeing some innovative ways with algae protein, mushrooms… legumes in non-dairy cheese alternatives… lentils, oats.”
Brands at Expo West showcased a broad assortment of meat, dairy and egg alternatives. Outstanding Foods, Venice, Calif., debuted PigOut Pigless Bacon Chips, a smoky, crispy mushroom snack developed by chef Dave Anderson, who previously worked with plant-based brands Beyond Meat and JUST (formerly Hampton Creek). Flavors include original, cheddar, chipotle and Kansas City barbecue.
San Francisco-based JUST highlighted the latest iteration of its egg substitute, JUST Egg 2.0, which is set to debut in Whole Foods Market and Sprouts Farmers Market stores. The product, made from mung beans, scrambles like eggs. Sales have surpassed the equivalent of four million chicken eggs in the United States within a few months, according to the company.
From Beyond Meat, Los Angeles, new Beyond Beef offers the versatility, taste and texture of ground beef and features a blend of pea, mung bean and rice proteins.
Sweet Earth Foods, a Moss Landing, Calif., subsidiary of Nestle USA, unveiled the new Awesome Burger, a soy-based alternative that looks and cooks like beef.
Hakuna Banana, a Los Angeles-based brand of plant-based frozen dessert made from bananas, dates and coconut milk, won the top prize at Natural Products Expo West 2019 Pitch-Slam competition. Flavors include cashew cookie dough, blueberry and banana spice, among others. From Frederick Export, Littleton, Colo., Pimp My Salad Cashew Parmesan is a dairy-free topping with a cheesy taste. Ingredients include cashews, organic nutritional yeast, sunflower seeds, organic kale, organic lemon peel and Himalayan Sea Salt.
Atlantic Natural Foods, Nashville, N.C., touted TUNO, a fishless canned seafood alternative made with a blend of soy, yeast, sunflower oil, seaweed and other ingredients. The product features a light, flaky texture and offers similar protein and omega-3 fatty acids as tuna, according to the company.
“We are democratizing plant-based eating by making it easier and more affordable than ever before,” said Laura Lapp, innovation brand manager for Atlantic Natural Foods. “Today’s shoppers are not only well aware of the benefits of plant-based proteins but also embracing them as part of a healthy lifestyle. Consumers are also increasingly demanding plant-based foods because it’s better for the planet.”