Futuristic names like the Beyond Burger or Impossible Burger have been popping up at fast food chains. What’s so special about those menu items? The 20 grams of protein found in the Beyond Burger mostly come from peas, while the 19 grams of protein in the Impossible Burger come from wheat. The innovative nature of these menu items and their limited release make them highly popular and Instagrammable among young consumers, but they’re also a reflection of a broader trend that’s transforming the food industry. Plant-based proteins are ready to go mainstream, and that market could be worth $14.32 billion by 2025. Other sources estimate that the plant-based protein industry will be an $85 billion market by 2030.
As fans of innovation and entrepreneurship, the HJR Global team is interested in the rise of plant-based food. Let’s take a closer look at plant-based proteins and why the trend is here to stay.
What Are Plant-Based Proteins?
A protein is a type of macronutrient that the human body needs to build new cells, including muscle cells. Macronutrients are complex molecules made up of chains of smaller elements. In the case of proteins, there are 20 different amino acids that can be combined to form complex chains. Animal proteins have been considered complete proteins by nutritionists for decades because those chains include the nine essential amino acids that the human body needs to function. Animal proteins support essential functions like producing new cells, building muscle mass and absorbing nutrients. Macronutrients found in plants also use chains of amino acids. Those amino acids become the building blocks for animal proteins as livestock feed on plants or grain.
Traditionally, plants were seen as incomplete sources of protein since macronutrients found in plants are typically shorter and don’t include the nine essential amino acids that humans need. Recent research suggests that plants, seeds and nuts are healthy sources of the nine essential amino acids and that it’s possible to get all the amino acids a human needs by adopting a varied diet with different sources of plant-based proteins.
Why Are Plant-Based Proteins Becoming More Popular?
Several factors are contributing to the rise in popularity of plant-based proteins. Recent innovations are making those products more appealing than ever before. Food manufacturers are using new technologies to create products with better taste and a texture that’s more pleasant and easier to cook with. These products can mimic the taste, appearance and texture of real meat.
Such products are more affordable than ever before, making plant-based proteins a budget-friendly option for a wider range of consumers. The fact that healthy foods are more affordable is driving the demand and interest for vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian options since such diets are perceived as more accessible. It’s also easier to adopt those diets and stick to them thanks to the quality of new plant-based products and the range of options available.
The rise of the plant-based protein industry is linked to consumers making more informed decisions about their food. Plant-based proteins can reduce risks of developing health conditions like cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease while helping with weight control. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of those benefits and a growing number of consumers actively research and choose healthy options when shopping or dining out. Plant-based proteins are perceived as healthy, and consumers turn to those products to reduce their meat consumption. They like the variety and affordable cost. The multitude of new products is also encouraging consumers to try new options and making plant-based proteins more appealing.
Growing concerns regarding sustainability and the impact of the meat industry and intensive agriculture on the environment and climate change are motivating more consumers to make conscious choices. Consumers are becoming aware of ethical issues linked to the meat industry, or tend to distrust that industry due to meat recalls. Plant-based proteins are an ideal alternative that is more appealing than lab-grown meat. It provides consumers with sustainable and healthy alternatives, and consumers can get the proteins they need while spending their money in a way that aligns with their values and concerns.
What Does The Current Plant-Based Protein Market Look Like?
The demand for plant-based proteins is growing globally. Asia is the largest and fastest-growing market. North America represents 38.6% of the market. The demand is partly connected to vegan and vegetarian diets, but vegans account for only 2.5% of the population in the United States. A significant portion of consumers who opt for plant-based proteins are people who add vegan or vegetarian meals to their diet to reduce meat consumption and make healthier choices. That group represents 33% of the U.S. population and nutritionists describe them as flexitarians. Allergies are another factor contributing to the rise of the new market. A majority of food allergies are caused by eggs, milk and meat products. Allergies have contributed to a rise in the demand for plant-based proteins as well as an increase in awareness of meatless options.
Consumers have access to more information than ever before thanks to the internet. More people are playing an active role in researching foods and seeking to make healthy choices. Shoppers are likely to check the nutrition labels and 55% say that high protein content is something they look at when shopping for food. Plant-based proteins are a logical choice for the 30% of consumers who want to reduce their meat consumption.
Two main groups of consumers are likely to choose plant-based proteins:
- A diverse group of consumers needs to make changes to their diet for health reasons. They are often following the advice of a healthcare provider, or want to reduce fat and meat consumption to manage their weight. Those consumers typically look for products that reproduce the taste and texture of real meat.
- A second group of Gen Zers and millennials wants to make ethical and sustainable choices. These young consumers care about health, but also look for new culinary experiences and want to keep up with new food trends. They are more likely to try new products and to be receptive to plant-based proteins that don’t mimic real meat.
The Main Trends Shaping The Plant-Based Protein Industry
Innovation is accelerating rapidly thanks to the growing market and increased demand for meatless products. Young adults are likely to try new products, and food manufacturers are testing new sources of protein like hemp and chia. There is a demand for a wide range of products, including protein-rich snacks, frozen meals and breakfast options, and dairy product equivalents. Restaurants are adding healthy options to their menus to attract new customers. Umami Burger added the Impossible Burger to its menu in 2017 and that plant-based burger now accounts for a third of the chain’s burger sales.
More major chains are embracing the new trend, including Denny’s, Burger King, White Castle, McDonald’s, Carl’s Jr., Red Robin and the Cheesecake Factory. Fast food and casual dining chains are primarily introducing plant-based options in select locations for a limited time, but we could soon see permanent menu staples.
The remaining challenges to address include transparency and nutritional value, but the recent success of plant-based proteins indicates that consumers are ready for new options that are healthier and more sustainable. For small business owners, this presents a unique direction toward the future. Will smaller restaurants and grocery stores start to adopt more plant-based proteins to attract new customers? How does this shake-up affect all aspects of the food industry, from the creation, through distribution and final sales? And how does this affect the farming industry in the future? All of these effects are still coming down the pipeline, but it’s fascinating to see the future of a business forming here and now.