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Opportunities for Innovation in Plant Based Nutrition

Feb, 2023

From a growing number of people claiming to be flexitarian to more alternative product options hitting the shelves, the popularity of plant-based diets has skyrocketed—resulting in a consumer base much larger than just vegetarians and vegans. The plant-based meat has also been called the “best climate investment” of late which is poised to grow $162 billion by 2030. However, more innovation is needed to scale up and achieve these projections to meet higher demand.

Plant-based innovation broadly comprises of 3 major domains, namely plant-based meat, plant-based dairy, & plant- based eggs. Like animal products, they are also composed of protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water. Next-gen plant-based options look, taste, and cook like conventional meat, and offer complex carbs and fibre. Examples of plant-based meat, daily and eggs includes Impossible Foods’ burger patty which is a plant-based beef patty, Pea protein-based milk, eggs respectively.

Companies operating in plant-based nutrition

The top ten companies that launched the vegan innovation globally are Danone, Aldi, dm-drogerie, Lidl, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Unilever, Marks & Spencer, Woolworths, and Kellogg. These companies account for around one in ten launches of plant-based/vegan products globally. This clearly shows how fragmented the plant-based industry still is. Interestingly, these companies have not increased their share of launches over the past five years, evidencing that smaller start-up brands continue to play a prominent role in driving growth in the vegan food market.

According to a new report, industry giants lkike Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Oatly drove an increase in plant- based food options as they partnered with the restaurants and the major chains. More traditional and established competitors, like Kellogg and Nestlé, gained an edge by ramping up the distribution of several plant-based products, and producing promotional campaigns that showcased a variety of options.

Emergence of New Companies in Plant-Based Innovation

Innovation for a kinder future: 4 vegan start-ups joined the plant-based food revolution. Four more vegan start- ups Nomou, Seaspire, Oatey, and Made from Plants developed plant-based alternatives to animal products to create a humane and sustainable impact on the planet.

Innovations in the plant-based nutrition

  1. Although plant-based meat alternatives have existed for a long time, they have historically been targeted at vegetarians and vegans. However, to truly make an impact on global meat consumption (as well as accessing the huge market opportunity that comes with it), plant-based meat producers must target the 95% of consumers who do eat meat. Based on this thinking, modern plant-based meat companies came up with the following innovations: - a. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods invested heavily into R&D and technology development to make their products as realistic as possible.
    b. Impossible Foods uses a genetically engineered strain of yeast to produce soy leghemoglobin, a key ingredient that makes its meat substitutes "bleed" and gives them a uniquely meaty flavour.
  2. Diversify plant-based protein sources: Improved variety in plant-based proteins is the key for sustained market growth. Types, formats, and sources of plant-based protein innovation keeps on diversifying continuously to meet the increasing consumer demands. As one of the most popular plant-based products, the high use of burger substitutes has much to do with their availability and the innovations that the brands have made in both taste and texture. Brands can find ways to stay ahead of the competition by elevating new alternative formats to other types of meat products in the way that Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat did with burgers.
  3. Hindustan Unilever Limited also aims to sell €1 billion-worth of products using plant-based meat substitutes and dairy alternatives annually within the next six years. The company states that the sales of plant-based products are already skyrocketing. Last year alone, US shoppers spent more than US$7 billion on meat and dairy alternatives. By 2027, global revenues could reach ten times that figure. HUL believes that the benefits of a plant-based diet rests on taste, nutrition and sustainability. Together with brand leadership and strategic partnerships, the company sees cutting-edge food research and technological innovation as pivotal to achieving these three outcomes.
  4. Compared to traditional meat, plant-based food is more agile and responsive to market demands. The COVID-19 pandemic was a clear indicator of the supply chain disruptions that occurred in the traditional meat industry, which ultimately opened doors to plant-based distribution. As the plant-based food market matures, consumers started looking for healthier options, more choices, and better taste.
  5. In the next decade, lab-grown dairy can take a market share between 35% and 50%, thus challenging plant-based alternatives. In the longer term, the challenges from lab-grown milk will push dairy and non-dairy to unite forces and seize the opportunity to position the hybrid products as the ‘best of both worlds.

Scope of Innovation ahead

  1. Packaging Sustainability is now the new normal. Plant-based companies need to work harder on their packaging sustainability innovation to remain at competitive advantage over animal protein products.
  2. In China, 68% of adults agree that plant-based foods help reduce the risk of ‘three highs’ (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar. There is a continued demand for product innovation that looks to increase the visibility of plant-based meat products and help soy-based protein products to eliminate the outdated image.
  3. Various start-ups like Redefine Meat and NovaMeat are exploring the use of 3D printing to create structured plant-based meat products. 3D printing enables the creation of customizable products with intricate shapes and textures and thus could be used to recreate the marbling of steak or the defined areas of fat and muscle in bacon. Although rapid, scalable, cost-effective 3D printing technology is likely a long way off for the food industry
  4. The concept of plant-based drinks brands has also come into the picture. The companies should essentially look to increase their market share and should continue compete for new occasions beyond coffee. They should essentially aim to expand their product range over foamable products, particularly in the home cooking products.

Vevolution is the 1 st global network and investment marketplace for plant-based innovators. It connects and facilitates a global community of aspiring entrepreneurs, emerging startups, and investors to create sustainable future solutions for people, planet and animals. In November of 2020, Vevolution launched their marketplace connecting startups and investors. In 2021, nearly 300 fundraising rounds were added, 800 introductions were made to mission-aligned investor members, and 21 startups secured partial or full funding of their investment round. Startups who secured funding via Vevolution in 2021 include  BetterMilk , De Novo Dairy, No Evil Foods, Grounded Foods Co, Grazer, Crafty Counter, Blackbird Vegan Cheese, etc.

Way Forward
As consumers become familiarized with plant-based products and initiatives, an evolution in consumer habits over the next decade has been forecasted. The plant-based foods market could make up to 7.7% of the global protein market by 2030, with a value of over $162 billion, up from $29.4 billion in 2020, according to a new report by Bloomberg Intelligence (BI). It is also expected that the rapid population growth will contribute to plant-based food growth. The Asia-Pacific region is particularly vulnerable to limited food supply, with an expected population of 4.6 billion by 2030. As a result, the region is likely to dominate the plant-based protein market reaching $64.8 billion by 2030, up from $13.5 billion in 2020. The majority share of that market in Asia-Pacific will be comprised of alternative dairy products, at 57% by 2030. 

International restaurant chains, including Taco Bell, Chipotle, Jamba Juice, and Starbucks will be significant players in increased sales and consumption of plant-based alternatives. Large chains offering burger, sausage and milk- alternatives will encourage consumer habits to adjust to plant-based food products. BI expects faux chicken to be particularly primed for growth over the next year.