Market & Trends

Experts Share Insights on Current State & Future Prospects of the Plant-Based Food Industry

Nourish Food Marketing and HRA Global hosted a joint webinar earlier this month to discuss the 2024 Food Trends Across the Atlantic Report. The webinar addressed the current state and future prospects of the plant-based food industry.

The discussion, which featured Jo-Ann McArthur, President and Founder of Nourish Food Marketing, and Hamish Renton, Managing Director of HRA Global, covered various food trends in North America and Europe, including precision nutrition, plant-based meat and dairy, sustainable food production, and more.

Key insights

Key insights from the webinar regarding plant-based meat and dairy indicate that health, taste, texture, and environmental factors are driving demand. However, the honeymoon phase is over, and concerns about overprocessing are increasing. According to the report, 39% of UK consumers believe plant-based products are too processed.

“To write that market off is very presumptuous”

Such criticism has led companies like Beyond Meat to revamp their recipes for cleaner labels. Reports, such as that by Anthony Warner for New Food Innovation, argue that food processing is necessary and its impact on health should be understood rather than broadly criticized.

“We’ve seen the market zoom up to about a billion in the UK and then really come off slightly. But to write that market off is very presumptuous. […] I think the key drivers aren’t going to go away because if the key drivers are health, taste, and environment, well, you’re in for a very long ride,” noted Renton.

Beyond meat beef crumbles
© Beyond Meat

Flexitarians remain key

Further insights from the report indicate flexitarian eating is on the rise, with consumers preferring a moderate approach over strict dietary choices, while carnivorous eating is declining due to cost and ethical concerns.

McArthur tackled the widespread belief that the decline in popularity of plant-based products indicates that they were merely a fleeting trend. She argued that it is premature to dismiss the global market for plant proteins and plant-based foods. “Consumers are becoming less carnivorous due to climate change and animal welfare concerns, and we’ve seen high inflation around proteins really accelerate that reduction,” McArthur noted in the webinar, explaining that these factors would continue to drive demand for plant-based options.

“…we’re seeing a real change in terms of dairy and meat offerings”

She expects a significant rise in flexitarianism as Gen Z and millennials increasingly make purchasing decisions based on sustainability. McArthur further stated, “North American campuses are vegetarian by default in a lot of cases, so we’re seeing a real change in terms of dairy and meat offerings.”

Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown addressed these issues in his keynote speech at the Vegan Women Summit earlier this month. He acknowledged the many challenges faced by the plant-based industry, including fear-mongering and disinformation. However, he expressed optimism about the industry’s future. “You won’t hear this alternative meat, this fake meat, even plant-based meat; they will all be meat. Your grandchildren will be eating meat right from plants and not thinking about it,” Brown stated.

© vegconomist

The path forward

While consumers are interested in sustainable choices, such as reducing food waste, economic factors like cost and accessibility often take precedence. To ensure the survival and growth of the plant-based industry, achieving price parity, focusing on upcycled ingredients, and making plant-based products more accessible are essential.

“We’ll see a rebirth with more products putting the plant back into plant-based”

McArthur compares the peaks and valleys experienced by the plant-based industry to Gartner’s tech hype cycle: “We moved from that technology trigger and innovation introduction where people were interested in trying [faux meats], and then we got into that trough of disillusionment after that initial hype subsided. Now, I think we are going to start going up the slope of enlightenment and we’ll see a rebirth with more products putting the plant back into plant-based.”

Watch the full webinar here.

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