Powering Up on Plant Protein


Plant protein is continuing to gain traction as the plant-based revolution marches on. Plant-based eating has continued to evolve, reaching not just mainstream but what might even be described as global phenomenon status. It has developed strongly in recent years, moving on from the disruptor status highlighted by Innova Market Insights in its Top Trends for 2017. Plant-based has continue to feature in Innova Market Top trends since then and now for 2021, Innova’s Plant-Forward trend is heralding the rising appeal of plant-based products in different regions and categories. This comes as consumers demand new formats, new plant proteins and an extra level of sophistication.


Health still dominates plant protein interest

Innova’s 2020 Consumer Survey indicated that the top four reasons for considering plant-based alternatives were health, variety, sustainability and taste. Health was the clear leader, cited by 53% of respondents globally.

In the meantime, terminology has also moved on, with plant-based claims increasingly in evidence alongside more established vegetarian and vegan positionings. According to Innova Market Insights data, the use of plant-based claims for global food and beverage launches had a CAGR of 37% over the 2016 to 2020 period. This compares with 10% for vegan positionings and a marginal decline for the more mainstream and established vegetarian category. Research in 2020 also indicated that six in ten consumers preferred plant-based claims when buying alternatives to meat and/or dairy.

The use of more specific plant protein claims is also booming, as protein from plants is increasingly and more prominently presented as a key product feature and terms such as ‘plant power’ more commonly used.


Alternative plant proteins and plant/animal protein blends are growing forces 

The use of a wider range of plant proteins is also in evidence, with fava bean and hemp by far the fastest growing proteins tracked in meat and dairy alternative launches globally over the 2017 to 2019 period. This is from smaller bases than the more established rice, bean and potato proteins, which also saw ongoing, if more modest, growth over the period.

Looking forward, a variety of alternatives is expected to disrupt the segment still further using a wider variety of ingredients. It has also been suggested that there are opportunities for plant + animal protein blends, mixing whey and vegetable protein in sports nutrition products, for example, or dairy and plant milks for beverages, or meat and vegetable components for burgers. An Innova Consumer Survey indicates that 36% of global consumers would prefer a mix of plant and animal products, while 25% would prefer 100% plant-based options.

“As consumers are powering up on plant protein” concludes Lu Ann Williams, Director of Innovation at Innova Market Insights “opportunities and challenges are attracting even more attention in the industry, particularly with regard to regional preferences and sustainability expectations. Key challenges for plant-based tend to be similar to those for the food industry as a whole, including the provision of clean label and sustainable options, targeting ingredients simplicity, the use of minimal processing and optimization of taste and textural experiences”.


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