With plant-based diets becoming more popular, the plant-based sector has aimed to meet consumer demand for new product variation, with opportunities for standalone products, new formats and technologies, and its latest innovations. According to Innova Market Insights, the most critical areas for growth opportunity include diversity, standalone products, and technology innovation.
The plant-based sector has responded to consumer demand and is experiencing global growth in new product launches. While each global region shows positive growth, Asia has experienced the fastest growth rate, increasing by 85 percent in food and beverage launches with a plant-based claim between 2018 and 2022.
Asia is followed by the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, with increased growth rates of 62 percent and 55 percent, respectively. These product launches are paired with plant-based claims across various categories in Asia, such as plant-based fish, cheese, and sweet baked goods.
With a growing consumer base seeking out plant-based food options, there has been an increase in demand for plant-based product variation. When asked if they follow any diet principles, nearly 50 percent of consumers said they did, with 26 percent of consumers said to be flexitarian or meat-reducing, 17 percent vegetarian, and six percent vegan.
These demands for further diversification cover many categories and occasions, the most significant being milk and meat alternatives. As for plant-based claims, poultry substitutes are the fastest-growing subcategory, with its CAGR increasing by 96 percent between 2018 and 2022.
Across these categories and occasions, a notable number of consumers said they want more plant-based options on the shelf, including everyday sauces and ready meals to more indulgent chocolate and desserts.
Originally, plant-based products were intended as direct replacers for animal-derived products, such as meat and dairy. However, meat substitutes have been shown not necessarily to be first-choice meat replacers. Plants in their more natural state are already among the most consumed alternatives to meat. Twenty-nine percent of consumers noted that when they directly replace meat with a plant-based alternative, vegetables are their first choice, followed by 21 percent opting for legumes. When ranked among the most picked direct meat replacers, plant-based meat alternatives ranked only ninth. This reveals an opportunity for plant-based products to create their own identity as a standalone sector.
Forty-four percent of consumers want to see improved flavour in plant-based products. New technologies help innovation bring nutrition and taste together. Fermentation has been shown to benefit plant-based trends among categories like non-dairy cheese and chocolate confectionery. To illustrate this process, Planet A Foods uses fermentation to create 100 percent cocoa-free chocolate.
Innovation in cell-based technology has allowed for innovation beyond meat. These cell-based technologies include plant and algae-sourced and 3D-printed scaffolding to cultivate meat alternatives. Microalgae technology is also revealing itself as a potential for the plant-based category. Microalgae in freshwater and marine environments can be grown efficiently in bioreactors and processed to create highly nutritious, protein-packed food products.
As plant-based diets become increasingly popular, the plant-based category solidifies its position in the food and beverage industry. Expect to see companies expanding and diversifying their product range, potentially including standalone products. New technologies such as precision fermentation, cell-based and microalgae technology will also offer different pathways to create plant-based alternatives that will meet consumer demand for improved taste and more plant-based options on the shelf.