Analysis: The trend to eat more plant-based products will continue to grow in 2020

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A veggie burger.

By Anders Lorenzen

The move to vegan diets or, at least, eating less meat was a key trend in 2019. Perhaps it was spurred on by the climate crisis, which due to the Thunberg effect became a mainstream issue in 2019.  And a new report predicts that the trend towards eating more plant-based food will continue in 2020.

The extraordinary growth of plant-based companies in 2019

The recently released IDTechEx report Plant-based and Cultured Meat 2020-2030 demonstrates that compared to 2017 the sales of plant-based meats grew by almost 40%. 

In 2019 one of the most anticipated public listings was the company Beyond Meat. The plant-based burger maker’s share price surged by 500% in the three months after going public, thus making it one of the hottest stocks to own in 2019. Additionally, their plant-based rival, Impossible Foods, secured $300 million in additional funding.

Also in 2019 some of the world’s largest supermarkets and food brands were eager to enter the plant-based market, launching a host of different products. All this contributed to the fact that eating meat alternatives became mainstream and big business in 2019.  

The appeal stretches beyond vegetarians and vegans 

The report finds that companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Food appeal to people who eat meat, meaning their potential market share is huge. These consumers are less likely than vegetarians to compromise on quality for ethical reasons. As such, there is a serious Research & Development ( R & D) focus on product quality and exact replication of meat, something that was less of a focus in previous generations of meat substitutes. This has helped contribute to the explosion in sales of plant-based meat products which is likely to continue into 2020.

The US is one of the highest consumers of meat per capita, And, as a result, the US has also a huge carbon footprint per capita just from meat consumption. There only 5% of the population is classified as being vegetarian or vegan. But 54% of American consumers want to reduce their meat intake, and the health and environmental concerns of the meat industry are key drivers. The report outlines that plant-based meat products are viewed as healthy alternatives to their meat counterparts, enabling consumers to enjoy burgers and nuggets guilt-free. 

However, this could be seriously problematic for the plant-based meat industry. Their products often contain just as much fat and salt as the meat products they are replacing, and so thus a consumer backlash is a risk. To counter this possibility, over the last few years improving the taste and texture of plant-based meat has been the main R&D focus. Moving into 2020 and beyond, the focus will shift towards making these products healthier.  

During the 2020s, the report explains that a host of new plant-based products will enter the market. The food giant JBS will launch a new plant-based meat brand in Brazil. And in the UK Perdue Farms will launch Chicken Plus – breaded chicken products blended with vegetable proteins. US retailer Kroger also announced the launch of its own private label plant-based meat analogue under its Simple Truth brand. 

In 2020, we are likely to see many established food companies launch their own plant-based meat products, which could begin the commoditisation of plant-based “meat”. While this is unlikely to be good news for Beyond Meat and Impossible Food, it will bring competition into the plant-based industry. This will in return will lower prices, making these products more widely available to the average consumer.

Another trend in 2020 could be the partnership between fast food outlets and plant-based producers. This has already started to be rolled out in some stories in some countries, but this could speed up in 2020.

The risk of challenges to how vegan food is labelled

The legal argument of food labelling could heat up in 2020. As plant-based eating becomes more mainstream the dairy and meat industry’s business model will become threatened. As a result, lobbying is taking place in order that the plant-based industry appears less competitive. Labelling restrictions for terms such as “burger”, “meat” and “milk” used with plant-based products are claimed to be confusing and misleading to customers. For instance, earlier this year, the state of Missouri passed a law banning the term “burger” from being used in relation to plant-based meat. 

And in the European Union (EU) a similar controversy is taking place, where new EU regulations are being passed, restricting the use of certain terms. In 2017, the EU passed laws stating that “milk”, “cheese” and “yoghurt” can only be used for products derived from animals. However, as the plant-based industry is becoming more powerful they will challenge this and argue that these restrictions are an anti-competitive move designed to protect the meat industry. 

Industry advocate The Good Food Institute recently filed a lawsuit against the state of Missouri, arguing that the labelling law infringes the First Amendment. The Good Food Institute has stated that “No one buys Tofurky “Plant-Based” deli slices thinking they were carved from a slaughtered animal any more than people are buying almond milk thinking it was squeezed from a cow’s udder.” As we move into 2020, these arguments are set to get more intense as both the plant-based and conventional meat industries face threats to their sales, the report outlines.

The short outlook

While the move to more plant-based eating will face obstacles, it is a trend that will only continue in one direction, upwards. Especially as more and more people are becoming worried about the climate crisis. And more and more scientific studies find animal agriculture as one of the main culprits, alongside the fossil fuel industry, in causing climate change. As food innovation speeds up, the availability of plant-based products is increasing and as they become more affordable will continue to become more appealing. 


Categories: analysis, food, innovation

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