The days where you would only find the label “vegan” or “plant-based” on one or two frozen soy burgers at the grocery store are long over. In the past few years, a mix of established natural food brands and innovative new upstarts are completely changing the game, by offering everything from artisan nut-based cheeses, beef-less burgers and other meat alternatives that pack the same amount of flavor and nutrition as their animal-based counterparts, a plethora of dairy-free milk, snacks and more. Consumers want packaged foods packed with nutrient-dense vegetables, protein-rich grains, seeds and legumes and companies are responding by creating innovative new product offerings that accommodate these expectations.
There is an incredible variety of meat alternatives available in today’s marketplace. In 2015, more than 100 plant-based meat substitutes were introduced in grocery stores. 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 meat market by 2050.
Plant-based meats come in virtually every shape, flavor and form that conventional meat does and make up a huge portion of the plant-based food space. Some of the products available include plant-based meatloaf, steak, sausages, bacon, chicken, hot dogs, beef crumbles, turkey, fish filets, deli meat slices, meatballs, pulled pork and pocket meats. Frozen and refrigerated plant-based meats make up the largest portion of the category, providing consumers with quick and easy meal preparation – in addition to a long shelf life. Products in this category are generally made of Texturized Vegetable Protein (TVP), seitan, tempeh, tofu, pea protein, mycoprotein, and vegetables such as jackfruit and Portobello mushrooms.
Veggie burgers are one of the oldest staples of the plant-based packaged food market. These versatile and convenient burgers can be made from everything from Texturized Vegetable Protein (TVP), seitan, tempeh, vegetables, tofu, pea protein, legumes and grains, and come in a broad variety of flavors. From the perfect imitation of a traditional smoky grill burger, to the more obvious vegetable variety, the veggie burger category is one of the most diverse and developed in the plant-based meat sector.
Dairy-free beverages like soy milk are by no means new to the market, but in recent years there has been enormous growth as consumers seek out healthier, dairy-free alternatives. Over one-third of consumers prefer dairy-free milk and according to a new study from Nielsen, in the past five years, sales of almond milk have grown 250 percent to more than $894.6 million. Plant-based milks now account for 20 percent of dairy case sales. Non-dairy milk sales, represent a $2 billion category, and growth is expected to continue outpacing dairy milk sales at least through 2018.
Today, a wide variety of dairy-free milks can be found in the dairy section of most grocery stores. These options include almond, coconut, cashew, hemp, quinoa, rice, hazelnut, sunflower, flax, oat, pea protein and soy milks.
The dairy-free cheese category offers everything from cream cheeses, shred, slices, grating blocks, and gourmet. Natural groceries saw annual sales of vegan cheese rise 22.7 percent in 2014 alone to $30 million. Many brands are working to create innovative dairy-free cheese products that far surpass the bland, rubber soy cheese substitutes of the past. Depending on the type and consistency of cheese, these products can be made from soy protein; solidified vegetable oils such as coconut, safflower and palm, nutritional yeast; thickening agar flakes; nuts such as macadamia, cashew, and almond; natural enzymes and vegetable glycerin; as well as pea protein and bacterial cultures.
With the growth of plant-based milks, the dairy-free dessert category has also seen a recent boost in demand from consumers. The market is now worth over $200 million. Using nuts, soy, and a combination of other ingredients, companies are creating innovative and delicious desserts. Of the offerings, dairy-free ice creams are some of the most popular. Dairy-free varieties include cashew, coconut, rice, soy, almond and tofu based options in everything from cartons, ice cream sandwiches, mini bites, popsicles, and frozen cones.
Dairy-free yogurts are gaining popularity amongst consumers who are looking for the probiotic health benefits of yogurt cultures without the dairy component. With 8 percent dollar sales growth year over year, this segment is estimated to reach $2.9 billion by 2017. Boasting high-protein content and versatility as a snack, yogurt is a growing category amongst consumers. To meet this demand, the plant-based industry has created yogurts made with soy, coconut, almond milk, and hemp. These alternatives are readily available in most grocery stores.
Consumers are choosing more egg-free products for the sake of their health and food safety concerns. In response to this search for egg replacers, the market has seen a recent boost with more companies coming into the fore in the past decade. Egg replacers are typically made from tapioca, potato starch, flax, chia seeds, chickpea flour, and soy.
Mayonnaise is a traditional staple in the American pantry, however, as more consumers are looking for health-conscious options that are free from saturated fats and cholesterol, egg-free mayo is rising as an amazing alternative. The category was formerly composed of niche products but thanks to food startups with tremendous financial backing and media attention, egg-free mayo has started to become sub-sector of its own. Made with pea protein, chickpea brine, and other ingredients, vegan mayo is quickly gaining category traction.
Vegan Meals (Delivery)
Consumers are looking for healthy, convenient meal options. The overall meal-kit service market is estimated to grow between $3 billion-$5 billion over the next 10 years based on current adoption rates. With vegan meal kits, you get perfectly portioned fresh ingredients delivered right to your doorstep, detailed instructions on how to to prepare them, and with minimal effort, you end up with a pretty good meal. In the case of meal delivery services, you can get all of that ready to heat and eat.
Vegan Meals (Frozen)
The frozen section of most major grocery stores now feature a special section for meatless and dairy-free prepared meals. The plant-based prepared meal category encompasses everything from soy-based mac and cheese, rice and veggie stir fry bowls, burritos, faux breakfast meats to entire stuffed faux turkeys and chicken. While the draw of convenience may be the main driver in the popularity of prepared meals, consumers are also looking for more natural and high-quality selections as well.
Fast Food Chains
Consumers want a casual, quick dining experience when they go out to eat. In the past, this may have meant going to the drive-thru at a fast-food restaurant and picking up a cheap meal that was most likely fried or otherwise not the healthiest option. Today’s consumer wants all the same convenience and speed, except they are looking for healthier, more natural options when eating out and are eating less meat overall. In response, casual dining restaurant franchises that offer healthier, all natural, and plant-based options have begun to gain in popularity. Sales at healthy fast casual chains totaled about $384 million in 2014, up almost 30 percent from 2013, according to preliminary data from Technomic.
The world is set to reach a population of 9 billion by 2050, the challenge of feeding the population is becoming evermore pressing. Our current food system, centered around animal agriculture, is not only responsible for rampant environmental destruction, but it is also failing to feed people in the process. The cultured meat space is rising as an innovative and efficient alternative to animal-based protein. From using stem cells to grow meat in labs to engineering proteins to mimic the structure of animal protein, these companies are creating products that have the same exact taste and feel of meat – but without the animal.