The food space experienced a monumental shift in 2016. This year, global market research firm, Mintel, identified plant-based meat and dairy products as one of the 12 key trends set to impact the global food and beverage market – oh, and did it ever. More individuals are growing aware of how our food choices impact the planet and their health and as a result, vegan food has seen a steady rise in popularity. In the past two years, we saw the plant-based food sector reach $3.5 billion with an 8.7 percent growth. Plant-based food is no longer part of a fringe food trend: it’s here to stay.

2015 was a great year for plant-based food but if you ask us, 2016 topped that. Here are the greatest victories.

1. Ben & Jerry’s Launches Vegan Ice Cream

ben and jerrysForbes


Yes, 2016 was the year that every dairy-free ice cream-lovin’ individual’s wildest dreams came true: Ben & Jerry’s finally released vegan ice cream! While we’ve been treated to decadent (and dairy-free) ice cream through the likes of So Delicious, Coconut Bliss, Almond Dream, and more, let’s face it: Ben & Jerry’s does things with flavors like no other brand out there. It’s no wonder why the ice cream giant wanted to hop aboard the dairy-free ice cream train: in 2016 the dairy-free ice cream market surged 43.7 percent to $75.2 million. It goes without saying that when the Vermont-based ice cream company announced that they were releasing a line of flavors made from almond milk, we were over the moon. 2016 officially made the days of wistfully staring at those pints of Chunky Monkey a thing of the past.

2. Hellmann’s Makes Vegan Mayo



The story of Hellmann’s making vegan mayo is an epic tale that will forever remain in the hearts and minds of all vegan mayonnaise enthusiasts. The drama all started a couple of years back when Unilever filed a lawsuit against Hampton Creek, the maker of Just Mayo, on the grounds that mayonnaise must contain eggs. It was very short-lived and they dropped the lawsuit soon after.  Earlier this year, it was announced that Hellmann’s very own vegan mayonnaise, Carefully Crafted Dressing and Sandwich Spread, would be hitting store shelves nationwide. Whether you’re on Team Just Mayo or Team Carefully Crafted Dressing and Sandwich Spread, you can find both in stores like Walmart and Target, which is a true sign of the times. Plant-based food is here to stay.

3. Vegan Burgers Go Head-to-Head With Meat

Mushroom and Beluga Lentil Burgers


We’ve been able to find veggie burgers in the frozen food aisle of just about any grocery store for years but, no burger could truly stand up to the taste, texture, and protein of a meat-based patty. 2016 changed that. Beyond Meat released the Beyond Burger, a soy-free, gluten-free burger that boasts a whopping 20 grams of protein per patty, changes from pink to brown like ground meat when cooked, and is even sold next to meat at the grocery store. 2016 also brought about the launch of the Impossible Burger, also known as “the burger that bleeds,” which, in its production, uses 99 percent less land, 85 percent less water, and emits 89 percent fewer greenhouse gasses than traditional beef production. Veggie burgers aren’t just for vegans or vegetarians anymore, even meat-eaters want a taste.

4. Plant-Based Milks Take Over the Dairy Aisle


In the past five years, we saw a 250 percent surge in the popularity of almond milk, adding up to $894.6 million in sales. In contrast, the dairy industry fell by seven percent in the past year. So that explains why dairy giants like WhiteWave Foods acquired So Delicious, a maker of dairy-free milks, ice creams, and yogurts.  This isn’t all so recent — since the mid-1970s, the dairy industry has been steadily declining by 25 percent per capita — but now, dairy is starting to feel threatened to the point of trying to argue that plant-based milks cannot legally be sold as “milk.” What is new is the amount of options now readily available to use in practically any grocery store. It’s no longer a choice between soy milk or almond milk from a couple of different brands. Now, many grocery stores carry their own generic brand of plant-based milks along with a wealth of other brands carrying everything from macadamia milk to milk made from pea protein.

5. Meat Industry Embraces Plant Protein

burgerBeyond Meat


We’ve seen dairy companies like WhiteWave Foods buy plant-based products, but one thing that none of us would have guessed that Tyson Foods, the world’s largest producer of meat, announced their plans to invest in Beyond Meat. Not long after that, they pulled another curveball when they revealed that in addition to their investments in Beyond Meat, they would be launching Tyson New Ventures LLC, a $150 million venture capital fund to “complement its existing investments and [will] focus on companies that are developing ‘breakthrough’ technology and business models.” It’s clear that Tyson knows that the future of protein is plant-based.

6. Veggie Grill Announces Nationwide Expansion

Screen Shot 2016-12-23 at 4.23.48 PMVeggie Grill


If you haven’t heard of Veggie Grill, it’s is an all-vegan chain that specializes in providing healthy fast-casual food to hungry customers — most of whom do not identify as vegetarian or vegan. The “Fork & Knife BBQ Mushroom Sandwich” you see above is just one of its many drool-worthy creations. Sadly, it’s based on the West Coast … but not for very much longer. Thanks to its loyal customer base, this chain received a total of $22 million from its investors for a nationwide expansion. Due to various concerns over sustainability, health, and animal welfare, one-third of Americans identify as flexitarian (choosing to leave meat and dairy off their plates more frequently) and one in ten millennials identify as vegetarian or vegan, so no wonder this plant-based chain has gained so much traction. We certainly can’t wait to have Veggie Grill right around the corner.

We’d love to hear which of these big food wins you were most excited about. Tell us all about it in the comments!

Lead image source: Veggie Grill