A decade ago, the plant-based food category was nowhere close to being as established and successful as it is today. Seemingly destined to stay within the confines of specialty food stores, plant-based companies wondered whether their products would always be stacked next to bottles of kombucha and dietary supplements. Boy, how times have changed. The plant-based category has seen tremendous growth over the past few years due to a growing consumer demand for clean, good-for-you foods and plant-based protein and it’s showing absolutely no signs of slowing down. How can we be so sure? Well, considering Pinnacle Foods, parent company to brands like Gardein, Bird’s Eye, and Boulder Brands, recently attributed much of their 19.7 percent net sales surge to the introduction of Gardein and their other plant-based brands, it looks like it’s never been a better time to invest in this category.

So, why are plant-based products suddenly the hottest new food sector? Well, a number of reasons. First off, consumers are becoming increasingly turned off to meat. Whether it’s due to the use of antibiotics, the animal welfare issues, or the fact that it’s been proven to be terrible for the environment, people are no longer enamored by meat the way they used to be. Alternatively, new impressively realistic products in the plant-based protein sector provide everything you want from meat – the nutrition, the taste, and the convenience – without any of the negative stuff. Slowly but surely, people are realizing that there are far more sustainable ways to satisfy their cravings for meat and are including these proteins in more of their meals.

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Unsurprisingly, conglomerates have taken notice of this shift in consumer perception and have begun to acquire brands that align with this new trend. Pinnacle acquired Gardein (a decision that has clearly proven very fruitful) and most recently, Danone acquired WhiteWave Foods, specifically for their enticing dairy-free brands like Silk and So Delicious. These parent companies may not be entirely concerned with the health, environmental, and animal welfare benefits of the food these plant-based companies are creating, but they most certainly care about one thing: profit. And there is no doubt that plant-based brands are bringing money into their pockets. After all, the dairy-free market has grown 200 percent in the past five years and the plant-based meat market is set to reach $5.2 billion by 2020! Pretty amazing stats to an investor!

Whatever their motivation is, the fact that these huge companies are not only acquiring plant-based brands, but demonstrating successful sales through them, is incredibly important for the growth of the plant-based category. These actions are slowly helping build a sustainable food system – something the world so desperately needs.

As Nil Zacharias, co-founder and editor-in-chief of One Green Planet said, “Our current food system with animal agriculture at its core is broken, and there is a huge financial opportunity in betting on innovative foods as the disruptive force that can transform the industry from the inside out.”

Changing the food system is not something that will happen overnight. It will be a process driven by consumers and producers, equally and symbiotically. The more demand there is, the more companies will be motivated to satisfy that demand. And before you know it, the domination of this category will go from a distant goal in the grand scheme of the future of food to a reality.

Image source: Artichoke Sunflower Burgers