One of the food and beverage categories that is experiencing the largest growth right now is plant-based products; it’s actually experiencing growth at a faster rate than the food and beverage industry as a whole. The dairy alternative market is projected to grow to $19.5 billion by 2020, which represents a 15.5 percent increase from 2015. More than half of American consumers say that they want to eat more plant-based foods, and brands are responding with innovative, often nutrient dense products. The following are some of the most recent innovations within plant-based products, along with some unique food and beverage items that I’ve come across.
Vegan products come in every flavor profile—savory, sweet, slightly indulgent, and true to fruit. One example is I Heart Keenwah. They offer quinoa clusters and chocolate puffs made from this high-protein ancient grain, and position their products as healthy alternatives to less healthful, indulgent snacks that don’t deliver many nutritional benefits. The meat jerky market has seen consistent growth of 3.3 percent in the past five years, and continued growth is expected. In response, there are now many varieties of vegan jerky for consumers that prefer plants, made from ingredients like coconut, soy protein, seitan and mushrooms. Primal Spirit Foods has flavors that include hickory smoked, mesquite lime and Texas BBQ, while Louisville Vegan Jerky incorporates maple bacon, smoked chipotle and Carolina BBQ into their product line.
Nut cheeses that can be used as spreads, vegan mayonnaise and salad dressings free from allergens and animal byproducts make it easier for consumers to substitute vegan condiments into their food preparation. Brands like Kite Hill (in which General Mills recently invested $18 million), Sir Kensington’s and Daiya have expanded their offerings that use a variety of plant-based ingredients like nuts, algal flour and aquafaba (the liquid that comes from cooking legumes).
Almond milk is expected to grow at a rate of 16% annually through 2020, but this is not the only non-dairy beverage that is experiencing growth. In addition to the more established soy and rice milks, macadamia, tiger nut, pecan and pistachio dairy alternatives are available in flavors including strawberry horchata, dark chocolate, chai and banana. New nut milk lattes also continue to gain shelf space with combinations like matcha/coconut milk and maca/coconut milk from Rebbl Elixirs and of course one of the trailblazers of premium plant-based milks: Califia Farms with their nitro cold brew latte with almondmilk.
Jackfruit takes the cake for the best meat impersonator of the moment. Upton’s Naturals and The Jackfruit Company have developed main courses inspired by flavors from India, Texas, Italy, Thailand and Japan that boast a meat-like texture in addition to other sought after attributes like high-fiber and low-fat. Burgers have also undergone a bit of a transformation. Tofurky introduced a variety of veggie burgers made from vegan-friendly ingredients like black beans, white quinoa, hemp and mushrooms earlier this year. Impossible Foods developed a burger that mimics a traditional beef burger by bleeding. This wheat-based product contains coconut oil, potato protein and signature ingredient, heme (a compound that gives meat its smell and other characteristics like bleeding), and might confuse (or surprise) at least a few vegans out there.
The plant-based market growth is impacted by several factors, including growing consumer awareness on health, an increase in food allergies and sensitivities, and the appeal and novelty of dairy alternatives/plant-based products. I look forward to seeing what new ingredients, technologies and flavor profiles debut this spring at Natural Products Expo West, but unfortunately I know that the market is not big enough to support every new product launch. It will be interesting to see which products and brands gain distribution and consumer acceptance from the vegans and omnivores among us.
Is there an ingredient or product that you think will gain notice in the plant-based market in the coming year? I’d love to continue the conversation and learn about any innovative products that I might have missed. As always, you can email me at email@example.com.