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Plant-based foods appeal to organic, clean label consumers

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Increased interest in plant-based alternatives stems from many drivers, including the avoidance of dairy allergens; desire for clean label products; compatibility with vegetarian, vegan and flexitarian lifestyles; and concerns about sustainability and animal welfare.

And the numbers don’t lie. U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods have grown 11% in the past year, bringing the total plant-based market value to $4.5 billion, according to data released July 16 by the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) and The Good Food Institute.

While many Americans eat meat, new data from Packaged Facts’ “The Organic and Clean Label Food Shopper, 2nd Edition” report revealed consumers are increasingly more adventurous with what they eat and more consider themselves flexitarian than in the past.

In fact, only 6% of Baby Boomers claim to eat flexitarian diets, while 13% of Generation Z considers themselves flexitarian, showing the trend is especially prominent in young people. Companies nationwide are expanding their product lines in response to changing consumer diets. In September 2019, Kroger announced plans to introduce meatless burger patties and non-dairy beverages, along with other new plant-based products, into its Simple Truth brand beginning in autumn.

But it’s not just semi-vegetarian diets driving the plant-based trend. The pure novelty of the animal-free products is often enough to inspire some meat-eating consumers to try them. According to Packaged Facts, 74% of shoppers are looking to turn routine meals into different experiences, creating opportunities for meat suppliers and plant-protein companies alike to give customers new recipe ideas that distinguish their products.

“A significant number of meat eaters surveyed claimed they do or would buy plant-based products, including those products that are blended with meat and plants, revealing that the meat industry faces many changes in the coming years as more consumers turn to plant-based meals and reduce their meat consumption in favor of more plants,” said David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts.

Packaged Facts noted an overlap between consumers seeking organic or clean label products and the uptick in the popularity of plant-based proteins. Because animal welfare and environmental concerns are important tenets of the clean label movement, plant-based vegan and vegetarian foods are often seen as cleaner than animal-based products even if not all of their ingredients are “clean,” leading consumers to reduce consumption of animal-based products and switch to plant-based alternatives. Labeling plant-based products with the name of the animal product they are imitating (e.g., almond milk, veggie sausage) makes this shift easier for consumers who are beginning to lead a plant-based diet.

Food brands are releasing new products and brands that consumers will not associate with such qualities. In June 2019, Tyson Foods launched Raised & Rooted plant-based chicken nugget alternatives and blended burgers that are a blend of Angus beef and pea protein. These products do not carry the Tyson name and feature the look of a different brand.

Although these products are not clean label due to ingredients such as “pea protein isolate”, they go in a similar direction and try to appeal to general consumers. The products list several inputs on the front of the package that have clean connotations (pea protein, egg white, golden flaxseed, and bamboo), which instill trust in recognizable and healthy food among the general consumer. Additionally, not using the Tyson brand name gives consumers an impression of a smaller startup company with a more authentic story.

In line with the trend toward more plant-based and clean foods, a few products are also combining vegetables with meat or other ingredients to put a healthier spin on traditional foods. For instance, South Mill Champs offers Shrooms Splits Filet Mignon and Portabella Jerky, which is a product blending mushroom jerky with beef jerky to create a healthier and more sustainable snack with less meat content. The product also has several clean label claims including no artificial ingredients, minimally processed, and grass-fed beef.

In March 2019, Morningstar Farms announced its commitment to going 100% vegan by 2021. (Check out INSIDER’s podcast with Sara Young, vice president and general manager of Morningstar Farms & Plant Based Proteins at Kellogg Co.)

Similar combinations include vegetables cropping up in new gluten-free or low-carb products. Vegetables can be used as a replacement for flour or combined with traditional carbohydrates to reduce overall carb content.

INSIDER’s sister site recently published a four-part series about up-and-coming alternative-protein brands making strides in the following categories: alternative eggs, alternative dairy, alternative meats and alternative seafood.

We’ll take a deep dive into the plant-based sector during the “How to Win in the Booming Plant-based Nutrition Sector” workshop on Wednesday, Oct. 16 at 9 a.m., at SupplySide West in Las Vegas.


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