The plant-based protein food sector sure has changed over the years. For starters, it wasn’t even called plant-based protein before! No, no, the beginning of this industry was much more humble. Products from brands like Tofurky, Boca, and Morningstar Farms were simply marketed as meat “alternatives” or “replacements.” They were a solution to personal dietary preference, not very likely to make a large impact on the food industry.
Well, in an unlikely (but not that surprising) turn of events, over the past few years the meat alternative market has exploded. A seismic shift has occurred in consumer’s perception of food and now people, regardless of dietary preference, are looking for cleaner sources.
Recent studies have shown that one-third of Americans are choosing to leave meat off of their plate more often while at the same time plant-based protein and vegetables have consistently been cited as a top trend in grocery stores and restaurant menus. This shift is primarily fueled by concerns over rampant antibiotic and hormone use in the animal agriculture industry, the environmental impact of meat, and the health concerns that are being thrown by media companies every month, people are not as infatuated with meat as they used to be.
Taking note of the perfect opportunity, the plant-based industry swooped in and provided the public with everything they seemed to want – organic, functional, allergen-free, and better-for-you foods that are better for health, the environment, and animal welfare. And the public is loving it! In 2015, more than 100 plant-based meat substitutes were introduced in grocery stores and analysts say they could make up one-third of the meat market by 2050. Pretty impressive! Due to this rise in popularity, meat alternatives are no longer considered “alternatives.” Instead, they make up their very own category: plant-based protein, a new sector of food that is disrupting the industry in a major way.
Now, places like Target no longer refer to these products as alternatives either. Yup, plant-based protein isn’t only carving itself a place in the hearts of consumers, but in the grocery market!
And while seemingly a tiny detail, the title has helped change consumer perception of these products. Consumers finally realized that the category went far beyond garden veggie burgers and soy-based sausages. Now there are companies like Beyond Meat, who transforms pea protein into nutrient-dense beefy crumbles, chicken strips, and burgers and Impossible Foods, who has taken to the lab to figure out the exact proteins that makes a burger so darn tasty and recreating it using proteins from the plant kingdom. To put it simply: these companies are not here to be alternatives to meat, they’re here to transform the very system that meat exists within.
Plant-based protein is one of the driving forces ushering in the future of food. And the timing couldn’t be better. The world population is growing and our food system is broken, to put it lightly. Despite the fact that the world produces enough calories to feed 10-11 billion people, the current food system is dominated by the production of animal protein and year after year we are giving away our valuable food supply to livestock while people around the world starve, a problem that will only grow in gravity. Plant-based protein provides an obvious solution to this overwhelming problem.
“Innovations in the plant-protein space have the power to transform food as we know it and write the story of the future of food. By choosing plants as a direct source of protein, we would use less of our planet’s finite resources, drastically cut down our carbon footprint and give thousands of species a fighting chance at survival. Most importantly, we could redirect enough grain to feed our entire growing population over the course of the next 30 years and beyond.” said Nil Zacharias, Co-Founder, and Editor-in-Chief of One Green Planet.
No one could have predicted the tremendous rise in popularity these products were going to have, but their rise in popularity is a testament to the type of change that is needed in the food industry. Do we really want to go down in history as the generations who saw the imminent collapse of the global food system, the environment, and the majority of species, and simply watched idly? No. And that is why plant-based proteins have become what they are today: a food technology that will change society as we know it.
Image source: The New Omnivore/Facebook