The plant-based food sector is a booming and eating plant-based has been described as the fastest growing lifestyle movement. According to some estimates, the plant-based meat market is set to reach $5.2 billion by 2020 and could make up one-third of the market by 2050. This move away from meat is largely due to consumers’ rising concerns about animal welfare, personal health, and importantly, sustainability.

Food giant Nestlé seems to understand this shift in food because they recently bought Sweet Earth Natural Foods, a Californian-based company known for vegan meals and snacks made from plant-based proteins. Up to half of Nestlé’s customers are seeking more plant-based foods in their diet, “and 40 percent are open to reducing their traditional meat consumption,” Paul Grimwood, Nestlé USA Chairman, and CEO said in a statement.

Indeed, meat consumption in the U.S. has been in steady decline over the past few decades, driven by reasons ranging from health, concerns over animal welfare, to environmental factors. Recent studies estimate that nearly one-third of Americans (roughly 100 million people) are consciously choosing to keep meat off their plates more often, and millennials are transforming the American consumer marketplace by demanding fresh, healthy and plant-based options.

Although Nestlé may not have the best track record when it comes to sustainability (especially considering their penchant for draining water from drought-stricken regions and bottling it for sale), we hope that with this acquisition of Sweet Earth Foods, they are changing from the inside out. Nestlé said in a statement that they hope this acquisition will help them build out their plant-based choices and gives the company a foot in the door to the plant-based foods sphere.

This is a great move, considering a number of other large food conglomerates have made similar acquisitions recently. For example, Canadian meat processor, Maple Leaf Foods, recently acquired Lightlife Foods, a producer of plant-based products such as tempeh, vegan sausages, and burgers. Tyson Foods, Inc., the world’s largest meat producer, has a five percent ownership stake in plant-based protein producer Beyond Meat.

Some may be hesitant to embrace these huge companies getting involved in the plant-based sector, but we are reaching a time where the question of how we are going to feed a growing population that is set to reach nine billion by 2050 cannot be ignored.

Demand for protein in the developed and developing world is at an all-time high, with the average person in the U.S. consuming 103 grams per day, around double the actual recommended amount. The animal agriculture system already covers over 45 percent of the world’s land mass, uses a majority of finite freshwater water resources, and is responsible for rampant air and water pollution – not to mention is the largest singular source of global greenhouse gas emissions. Even with all the resources that this industry uses, nearly one billion people still go hungry. The fact is, we need big companies like Nestlé to get involved in shifting our broken food system away from animal agriculture and towards a more sustainable one centered around plant-based proteins instead.

Thanks to companies like Sweet Earth Foods and investors that are willing to bet on sustainable innovations in the food space, we are seeing the future of food being formed here and now. Sweet Earth Foods will continue to be led by owners Kelly and Brian Swette, who are driven to create products that are environmentally friendly and nutritious.

To learn more about the environmental impact of our food choices as well as trends and developments in the plant-based food space, check out our podcast #EatForThePlanet with Nil Zacharias.

Lead image source: Sweet Earth Foods