Keith Nunes 2019KANSAS CITY — Food Business News declared plant-based eating the Trend of the Year in 2019. That designation has held up well as category demand, innovation and investment all have accelerated. Now suppliers and manufacturers are working to add ingredient technologies and capacity to meet rising consumer expectations for these products and growing demand. Large consumer packaged foods companies as well as startups are forging new ground to bring plant-based innovations to market.

“Plant-based eating” was defined in the 2019 Trend of the Year report as alternatives to products made from or containing ingredients sourced from animals. In 2021, Innova Market Insights identified “plant forward” as one of its top trends and said it signaled the progressive nature of the category as manufacturers push plant-based alternatives into the mainstream and expand into new categories and regions.

“‘Plant-based’ descriptors are now being carried by many diverse products, well beyond the core meat- and dairy-alternative categories,” said Lu Ann Williams, global insights director at Innova Market Insights. “The Innova Database shows particularly good growth for ‘plant-based’ claims in categories such as sauces and dressings, prepared meals, spreads and snacks.”

This expansion in demand across food and beverage categories has created a need for ingredient systems and technologies to simplify formulation and improve the quality of new plant-based finished products. There also has been a surge in demand for the raw materials necessary to supply such ingredient systems. New capacity to meet the additional demand is coming online or is in development.

In September, Ingredion, Inc. added new production capabilities for flours and concentrates at its pulse-based protein facility in Vanscoy, Sask. The added capacity will enable manufacturers to use plant-based proteins across a broader range of food and pet food applications, according to the company.

Innova’s plant forward trend also has caught the attention of large companies as well as startups. During a virtual session at the Future Food-Tech conference, held Sept. 29-30, Nick Suffredin, head of research and development for Wells Enterprises, Le Mars, Iowa, identified dairy alternatives as a key source of future growth.

“The non-dairy space offers exponential growth and is critical to our innovation,” he said.

Investors also are putting millions of dollars behind promising plant-based startups. Dairy alternative manufacturer Ripple Foods, Berkeley, Calif., received an additional $60 million in Series E funding on Sept. 22, bringing its investment total to $246 million. On Sept. 8 CHKN Not Chicken, Portland, Ore., raised $4.5 million in Series A funding to develop its plant-based chicken, and Misha’s Kind Foods raised $3 million in a seed funding round in late August to bring its plant-based cheese to market.

Five years ago, the primary question about the plant-based space was not around viability. Dairy- and meat-alternative manufacturers like Silk, which is now owned by Danone, Kraft Heinz’s Boca Burger and Kellogg’s Morningstar Farms all had demonstrated consumer demand.

The question was whether plant-based foods would ever achieve breakout success. Whether a plant-based alternative business could become a major standalone food business rather than a modest niche within a large CPG business. The potential for positive answers appears increasingly bright as manufacturers and suppliers strive to capture share in a market that continues to grow.