Plant Proteins: Drivers Of Veganism And Vegetarianism

A leaf. Plant proteins are finding their way into our diet.

At the moment there is considerable interest in plant proteins as an ingredient especially for vegetarian if not vegan foods. Back in 2018, the whole plant protein based market was valued at USD 16.45 Billion and is now expected to reach USD 40.53 Billion by 2025. That is a staggering CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 13.75% over the forecasting period (Pharmweb, 2021).

Adoption of a vegan diet is probably the key factor in this rise but what are the specific motivations. We may not be vegans but there are a large number of flexitarians out there. Plenty of market research studies suggest a number of factors encouraging not only take-up of the diet but a more general approach to using plant proteins.

Plant based proteins are a good food source. They are derived mainly from a range including soy, wheat, nuts, pea, lentil, peanuts, seeds, tofu, potato, rice and many others. Plant proteins are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals as well as dietary fibre.

Even in the absence of the pandemic caused by COVID-19, plant protein as a newish  food source was garnering consumer interest. A number of entrepreneurial food developers have been exploiting plant proteins in all sorts of applications.

Some of the sources which have pointing out the drivers reveal some startling statistics. Roughly a quarter of all global consumers are ‘extremely interested’ to know more about the role of plant proteins in their food whilst a much larger percentage (41 per cent) are just interested but significantly so (Google Trends, 2019). That means,  about 65% of consumers, two-thirds nearly, have some significant interest in plant proteins as a food ingredient.

The same Google trends source found that 70 per cent of consumers rate plant proteins as a ‘good protein’. If you delve deeper we find a rising interest in plant-based protein that has grown year on year since 2015. Part of this interest is cutting down on the consumption of animal products and adopting a vegetarian or even vegan lifestyle.

New Launches In Vegan Foods Up to 2020

More and more foods are catering for the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle. A Mintel GNPD & Health Foods International report for 2020 (2020a) revealed the share of vegan or non-animal ingredients claim had more than doubled in the last 5 years. Roughly 10.5% of all food product launches were in vegetarian foods whilst there had been a rise from 3.4% in 2015 to 5% of all launches in vegan or animal-free ingredient products. The vegetarian claim is static but stable at that 10.5% value whilst the vegan claims are currently rising.

There is an opportunity then that lies beyond becoming a vegan or just a vegetarian. Not everyone wants to be vegan but everyone wants more of what a plant has to offer.

If you look around the globe then you see slightly different trends appearing.

In the Americas for example, 20% of consumers want to avoid dairy products, 30% want to reduce their meat intake, 7% have become vegetarian and 5% are now vegan. In Europe, 18% of consumers avoid dairy products, 27% reduce their meat intake whilst 7% are also vegetarian and 4% are vegan. In Asia, 28% avoid dairy products, 40% recued their meat intake, 16% are vegetarian and 13% are now vegan.

What the figures from these three big regions tells us is that there is a large proportion willing to reduce dairy and meat intakes. That market is certainly sizeable.

What Are The Drivers Of Plant-Based Nutrition?

  • Health is the number 1 major motivator

At least 70% of us say that promoting long-term health is either extremely or very important as a driver. About 62% say that having just more energy is a key driver too.

A number of consumers (Voxpopme, 2019) will make statements like: “I have increased ny plant-based foods because I do think that it is necessary to get all the nutrients and all the good things from those plant-based foods“.

For many of us then, plant-based foods are considered more healthy, period.

  • We have significant environmental concerns

59% surveyed who chose plant-based foods say that the environment and sustainability are either extremely or just very important drivers. At the Golden Globe Awards for example last year, this was an event that wanted to send the right message by offering only plant-based catering.

One consumer interviewed (Voxpopme, 2019) stated that ‘paying attention to plant-based foods is something that’s important to me just because while I may not be vegan or vegetarian it’s still being conscious of what’s going on in the world. And eating things that are a little bit more sustainable than actually killing animals.’ 

Garden Gourmet, a Nestlé brand for example who make plant based burgers, sausages and mince now claim to have an 80% less carbon footprint, 75% less land use and 80% less energy use. These are claims tapping into consumer concerns.

  • Taste and novelty matter

Taste and novelty truly matters – 60% of flexitarians say its about taste preference. So, 32% of UK consumers agree that plant-based diets are boring in flavour. Creating a better taste is important and a number of consumers feel this aspect which used to hold them back on eating plant based proteins has improved in recent years. 

What we want as one consumer put it:  ‘It is just amazing to me when you eat the substitutes, when you eat those plant based substitutes, it just amazes me how good it tastes‘.

The product formulators have been tackling three different categories of food. These are:-

  •  meat alternatives – mimicking taste and texture of real meat products
  • dairy alternatives – not just about beverages but plant-based diversification into cheese, yoghurt, desserts, ice creams etc.
  • egg alternatives – egg replacers for vegan baked goods – their is a rising trend in vegan baking because of the appearance of these egg replacers.

Again, a look at some of the producers such as Garden Gourmet can offer sausages made from soy that have the taste and smell of sausages. Their burgers are made with similar ingredients and offer high quality sensory experiences. One other indication that the plant nutrition market is burgeoning is that the marketplace is becoming saturated with meat replacement products. Even large FMCG businesses are having to reposition their new brands to meet the challenges posed by smaller, agile businesses.

One positive in all this. We really still want that ‘meat’ taste because we enjoy that particular flavour. It’s most likely we will not be weaned off it any time soon irrespective of the fine nutritional value in plant proteins.

Focus On Plant Proteins

What are the top five plant protein alternatives for meat replacement?

At the moment the wheat and soy command over two-thirds of the marketplace. The values according to a number of global reports are:

  • Wheat protein (38.8%)
  • Soybean proteins (38.7%)
  • Cereal gluten (24.3%)
  • Pea protein (16.o%)
  • Mycoprotein (8.3%)

The top five plant proteins for replacement in dairy products are:

  • Pea protein (14.12%)
  • Soybean proteins (7.5%)
  • Soy protein isolate (4.4%)
  • Rice protein (1.0%)
  • Potato protein (0.6%)

At the moment there are some excellent examples of dairy products where plant protein has replaced whey. Roar (Froneri Int. Ltd, UK ) offer three products at the moment hemp Seed Chocolate Brownie, Hazelnut Chocolate Cookie and Coconut Mango passionfruit Oat Cookie. They also emphasize no palm oil and are UTZ certified. The plant proteins are wheat flour, oats, hemp etc.

What Is The Impact Of COVID-19 On Global Plant Protein Nutrition?

Covid-19 is giving a lot more  consumers across the world a new reason to cut back on foods of animal origin. Because of how the pandemic arose with transmission of the virus from animals, proves to some people that they should eat fewer animals (Mintel, 2020b). Most people are actually ambivalent about what they eat but similar numbers to those stating they would not eat animals now agree with the idea of cutting back on sources of animal foods. Essentially, consumers just want to include more plant-based foods in their diet for all the reasons we cited earlier about key drivers.

In the global sense we can see different shifts in thinking for various regions. The highest shift in change in opinion about moving to plant protein is highest in South and Central America (30% and 40% respectively). The change is 27% in North America but only 20.4% in Europe. It suggests that Europeans are being slightly more conservative than their counterparts in the Americas. This was data offered up by FMCG Gurus in their COVID-19, 18 Countries Survey of July, 2020.

The types of food that consumers are changing to with the use of plant proteins is also a pause for reflection. It means a there are some significant shifts in diet. Consumers have adopted the following product types where plant is now replacing meat or diary. The percentages reflect what food types they intend to consume where plant proteins have been the replacement :

  • meat (37%)
  • milk (34%)
  • meals (26%)
  • other (21%)  – not really elaborated upon
  • yoghurt (14%)
  • cheese (13%)
  • ice cream 12%

References

Google Trends (2019) Foresight Factory, Worldwide February 

Health Focus International (2020), Global Trends Study. 2020 

New Nutrition Business (2020), 10 key Trends in Food, Nutrition & Health 2020

Voxpopme (2019) Survey US 2019

Mintel GNPD (2020a), Plant based yogurt and drinks & meat substitutes with protein claim, Jan 2018 – June 2020

Mintel GNPD (2020b) Plant based foods on a post-COVID 19 world. August 2020

Pharmweb.com (2021) Plant based protein Market Report 2021: Research Findings, Analyst Introduction, Data Source, Methodology till 2027. (Article) Accessed 21st January 2021.

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