OP ED: Loui Blake, Entrepreneur & CEO of Miami Foods

The same people and energy that gave rise to this industry can help to continue this growth,” he urges.

Plant-based is slowing down? Here’s how we move it forward.

By Loui Blake

As a plant-based industry, we’ve enjoyed unprecedented levels of growth in recent years. It now looks like a very smart decision to have gone “all in” on plant-based based and leave my other businesses behind back in 2015, but even I was grossly unaware, and not even mildly expectant, that things might have turned out how they did.

Seeing advertisements for vegan food on major high streets, major celebrities endorsing plant-based diets, and the biggest brands in the world getting involved in Veganuary; the trajectory has been astonishing. A huge amount of investment has poured into the space, particularly in plant-based food, and it now feels that we’ve overcome many of the challenges that initially faced us, particularly as it relates to perception and awareness.

Double McPlant
The McPlant launches for Veganuary © McDonald’s UK&I

The words “vegan” and “plant-based” are seemingly everywhere. In 2022, however, we started to hear grumblings. So often Beyond Meat is heralded as the plant-based business by which to define the entire market, and its share price had slumped. The plant-based bubble was bursting, they said.

Businesses that had ridden the wave to huge valuations were coming under fire as the pace of growth slowed down. Down rounds, products delisted and newspaper articles questioning the long-term viability of the industry: the plant-based market has begun to come under scrutiny and in some cases, under coordinated attack from the very industries it seeks to disrupt.

A return to collective action

As we move into 2023, it’s my belief that we need a return to collective action. The same people and energy that gave rise to this industry can help to continue this growth, mitigate against the attack and actualise the collective mission we share. What we are all doing, in our various ways, is to end the suffering of animals and help people actualise a more compassionate way of living. We are more powerful when we do this together.

“We are more powerful when we do this together”

One of the most impactful decisions taken by foreign governments, as it relates to plant-based food, has been the legalities around labelling. Both France and South Africa attempted to bring legislation to pass last year to prevent companies from labelling their meat alternative products using the same name as the protein they’re replacing. There is an ongoing risk that the UK may follow suit, under pressure from the big meat and dairy players to further denounce an already crippled industry.

Miami Foods burger
© Miami Foods

The Plant Based Food Alliance has done some excellent work in orchestrating collective action to combat this, but further efforts are needed to combat future proposals in parliament. I encourage everyone to join & participate.

Secondly, it is my belief we have to do better when it comes to health. It’s easy to become lost in the terminology between vegan and plant-based, and whilst for many vegans, the priority is animal welfare, statistics show that the majority of people choosing plant-based foods are doing so for health reasons.

Health-forward is priority

The first iteration of plant-based foods was really about replicating, and indeed improving upon, taste and texture. We’ve all done a pretty good job at that, but often the health implications are not being considered. If we can improve upon animal products from a health perspective, as well as a taste, texture, and eventually cost perspective, the choice becomes very simple.

Loui Blake vevolution
© Sarah Koury www.kouryvindaloo.com

Engineering our products to be healthier, openly talking about and further understanding health outcomes, and encouraging our communities to make better choices with their help is paramount to the integrity of the message we’re sharing.

Collaboration and connection with other plant-based entrepreneurs has really helped me to unlock new learnings. Connecting with companies operating not just in the UK, but in different parts of the world, sharing stories and strategies has been incredible and offered real value.

The post covid era for plant-based

In the post-covid era, the way that plant-based businesses work together has sometimes felt disconnected. Many have moved from an attitude of building the market so there are more businesses competing for the customers that are already there. In doing so, the messaging changes from promoting the benefits of plant-based lifestyles, to promoting individual products.

PBFA covid

I completely understand this, and we’re operating in challenging times, but without the wider adoption & normalisation of plant-based lifestyles, the growth of the market slows down. The DNA of the plant-based business community in the UK, and indeed the essence of what I’m proposing above, is collaboration and the collective pursuit of a shared mission.

“…the essence of what I’m proposing is collaboration and the collective pursuit of a shared mission”

Damoy Roberston & I recently launched our “Plantrepreneur” network for this reason, and one of the strategies we’re really pushing with Miami Foods this year is collaboration with complimentary brands in our space. We’re always looking to work with aligned people, so please get in touch.

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