Increased consumer interest in plant-based and vegan products means this market is poised for continued growth.
It used to be that a vegetarian diet meant eating foods like dried-out bean burgers and sprouts on whole-wheat bread. Now, the world of plant-based and vegan foods has opened tremendously. In the 70s, pulling into a Burger King drive-thru and ordering an Impossible Whopper (a fully plant-based meatless patty) would have seemed, well, impossible. When Starbucks opened its doors in 1971, did its first baristas ever imagine the café would one day be offering several non-dairy milk choices to customers?
Questions arise when looking at plant-based and vegan products though. Why are individuals looking for these items? Is this market expected to experience continued growth or is it a passing trend? What innovative ingredients and products are in the market now, which are plant-based or vegan?
Why Individuals Are Looking for Plant-based and Vegan Products
Though the term plant-based was first introduced in the 1980s, it wasn’t popular until 2015, according to information from Mintel’.1 And data from Mintel Global New Products Database shows consistent growth. The percentage of new packaged consumer goods launched with a plant-based claim grew by 302 percent between 2018 and 2022. Mintel forecasts that the market for plant-based and vegan products could grow by as much as $160 billion by 2030.2
Being a vegan is slightly different than being a plant-based eater. While vegans eschew all forms of animal products, including honey, they are not always as health-conscious as their plant-based peers. After all, Oreos and potato chips are technically vegan.
And health is a big reason that many are drawn to a plant-based lifestyle. Documentaries like the popular, “Forks Over Knives” showcased the lives of normal people who’d chosen a plant-based lifestyle and seen great improvements to their health. Likewise, “The Game Changers” documentary featured elite athletes who were also plant-based or vegan. Celebrities like Alicia Silverstone, Woody Harrelson, Joaquin Phoenix and others continue to influence with their vegan lifestyles, as well.
Some individuals choose to eat plant-based food because of the environment. Statistics from The Vegan Society cite a 2022 statistic via The Research Institute that found that greenhouse gas emissions from an average American diet are dominated by meat and dairy, 56 percent, and 18 percent respectively.3 Rina Perry is the vice president of product innovation at Lipogen with headquarters in Israel. “One of the most direct reasons that a plant-based diet is better for the environment is simply that it’s more efficient,” said Perry. “Eating plants, instead of eating animals who eat plants, cuts out the enormous environmental burden that goes along with animal agriculture.”
For other individuals, eating a vegan diet is an ethical issue. “With many problems in the industrial farming industry, including animal cruelty, many people choose to eat fewer animal foods in protest of the outrageous harm that comes to animals for our food. A plant-based diet is much better for the environment than one that is heavy on meat and dairy,” Perry said.
For whatever reason, more individuals are choosing to make vegan and plant-based products a part of their lives. Even those who don’t eat 100 percent vegan or plant-based, are still likely to have tried or to consume some plant-based products regularly.
Chris Kalodis is the North America marketing manager of dietary supplements at dsm-firmenich, a manufacturer located in New Jersey. He stated, “Consumers are searching for more accessible ways to achieve holistic health and well-being. And these consumers often want to experience these health benefits using products that contain environmentally conscious and sustainable ingredients.”
Alicia Peirce Kasch, vice president of Nevada-based RIBUS, Inc., noted that consumers are looking at labels much more stringently than they have in the past. And because they have options, she said, they’re basing their purchasing decisions on ingredients. “Whether it’s personal preferences, wanting to be able to pronounce the ingredient(s), dietary restrictions or intolerances, ingredients are very important,” Peirce Kasch said. “Recently, I was shopping for a treat for my daughter’s class and had four allergens I had to avoid and was able to find the perfect option—thanks to Cybele’s Free to Eat—while making sure it was safe for all her classmates.”
Peirce Kasch noted, “It’s pretty incredible from a consumer perspective that there are so many options out there, but from the industry perspective, I feel we’re at the tip of the iceberg. One ingredient that has been on our radar is xanthan gum and we have a suspension aid (Nu-LIFT) that will be coming out very soon,” she said.
Is the Plant-based and Vegan Products Market Growing?
Kalodis stated that he anticipates continued growth in this category. “Sustainability is increasingly relevant to consumers, especially in the 18-39 age group,” said Kalodis. “These consumers actively seek out sustainable solutions for their product needs.” As an example, he pointed to omega-3s. As the demand for these products goes, so will the demand for sustainable sources.
“At dsm-Firmenich, we will continue to chart a course back to greater harmony with the Earth’s ecosystem. This catalyst for innovation will continue to bring exciting and unique new products within our life’s OMEGA portfolio of plant-based omega-3 products,” said Kalodis. Additionally, it will continue to preserve marine life, and ecological biodiversity and provide a more sustainable solution for global health and nutrition, he noted.
Director of Insights & Content at Glanbia Nutritionals, Illinois, Niki Kennedy stated that she believes this submarket will continue to grow. Alternatives to meat, poultry and seafood sources of protein will improve in both flavor and texture, said Kennedy, and no longer demand a premium. “There will ultimately be costs associated with many of the less sustainable elements of animal-based foods,” she stated. “Economic incentives to choose plant-based sources will stimulate growth, as well as meet consumer demand for cleaner products.”
At Activ’Inside, Marketing & Communication Manager, Maite Jeanroy, stated that she too, sees this market growing. The Polaris Market Research survey saw a projected CAGR of 10.35 percent between 2022 and 2030. Jeanroy stated that this underscores a rising interest in plant-based alternatives. “Veganism is anticipated to experience significant growth due to compelling factors such as manufacturers responding by introducing an array of plant-based substitutes for animal-derived ingredients,” said Jeanroy. These appeal not only to vegans but to a broader consumer base seeking healthier, more sustainable choices, she noted.
At HP Ingredients, a supplier based in Florida, Annie Eng, founder and CEO, weighed in on the growth of this category in the market. She stated that the Vegan Society registered more than 16,400 products with the Vegan Trademark in 2021. The same year, an NSF global survey found that 88 percent of food industry respondents expected demand for plant-based products to increase, Eng said. “According to Google, ‘vegan food near me’ registered as a ‘breakthrough search’ in 2021,” Eng noted. “Meaning that this search term had a more than 5,000 percent rise in searches.”
HP Ingredients produces organic herbs. These are “pretty much the norm now,” Eng said, and vegans tend to prefer all organic products. “Our signature ingredients are certified organic, and our Care line consists mostly of organic ingredients.”
Peirce Kasch noted that RIBUS, Inc. has continued to experience strong growth in foods, dietary, supplements, and pet products over its 31-year history. “As The Original Clean Label Ingredient Company, this category of ‘clean label’ not only includes plant-based and vegan, but also organic, non-GMO (genetically modified organism), kosher, halal, etc.,” she said.
Innovative Products and Ingredients
“The upcycled use of plant components that have traditionally been discarded, for example, spent grains from beer production, will become very attractive to consumers who seek to figure out ways to help the planet while meeting their need for affordable nutritious foods,” said Kennedy. “Since these scenarios provide a win-win for both the company marketing these products and the consumer wanting to do their part, this is a great opportunity for any company to explore.”
Algal-based omega-3s too, may be increasingly in demand in the future. At dsm-firmenich, Kalodis noted that the company’s life’s OMEGA portfolio is the first and only commercially available plant-based omega-3 oil that delivers the benefits of EPA and DHA in a single source. “Our continued commitment includes significant capital investment to expand capacity to supply double the current global demand for life’s OMEGA products, as well as expanding our advanced manufacturing processes to deliver superior production efficiencies and attractive economics to support market expansion,” he said.
At Lipogen, Perry explained, “As our ingredient, Cognolipid is plant-based, we are aware the market demand for plant-based products is growing due to the quality of the environment and awareness of Earth’s preservation. Ingredients found in plant-based supplements mimic how our body processes nutrients found in nature, making them easier to break down and absorb,” she said. “Nevertheless, it is quite clear that finished products must be safe for the consumer, claims need be clinically backed, and they should offer preventive health benefits.”
And while meat-free products used to taste similar to cardboard, Perry said, that’s changed a lot in recent years. “Israel has become the center of lab-grown meat and alternative protein technologies, thanks to its geopolitics, climate and culture,” she said. And while dairy alternatives—including soy, almond, oat and coconut milks have been around for a while, a new player is entering the field: potato milk. “It is currently sold in Europe and will no doubt make its way to the U.S.,” said Perry.
Additionally, she noted, “Incorporating plant-based functional ingredients into supplement formulations like adaptogens, probiotics, prebiotics, fatty acids and other superfoods to enhance their health benefits is happening now. Collaboration between the evolving plant-based substitute market and nutritional supplement companies will be essential to enhance health benefits,” Perry said.
Mark Becker senior account manager at California-based Vivion LLC believes that plant-based products are here to stay and are impacting not only individuals’ daily diets but also beauty and personal care, household and fashion products.
“Consumers are increasingly aware of the food system’s climate impact and are making that a part of their purchasing decision,” Becker noted. He said that the following should be expected: clean label and ingredient transparency and brands communicating the climate impact of plant-based choices. “The push for plant-based food is expected to grow in new categories beyond, meat, dairy and natural foods,” Becker continued. “Animal-free baking ingredients, such as sugar and chocolate, and condiments, such as salad dressings, are examples of this trend.” He also pointed out that more national restaurant chains such as Panda Express and Burger King have begun partnering with meat substitute companies to increase their vegan and plant-based menu offerings. “Animal-free fast foods will become much more prominent in the coming years,” Becker said.
At Activ’Inside, Jeanroy stated that a prominent trend in the nutricosmetic industry is the pursuit of alternatives in a market that has historically relied heavily on animal sources for ingredients, such as collagen. “A notable example that exemplifies this trend is SkinAx², a patented vegan alternative scientifically proven to stimulate the body’s natural collagen production,” Jeanroy said. “This vegan collagen booster comprises a synergistic blend of grape flavanol monomers, SuperOxide Dismutase (SOD), coated vitamin C and zinc,” she explained. There is a strong emphasis by the company on promoting comprehensive and holistic skin health, stated Jeanroy. “Through our thorough R&D approach in developing the formula, we discovered that this blend of plant-based ingredients synergistically acts as a collagen booster.”
Manufacturers and Plant-based and Vegan Products
While there is generally a consensus among medical experts that a diet lower in animal products is healthier, there are also specific concerns that plant-based and vegan diets present. Perry stated, “Vegan diets are generally lower in protein and can cause blood sugar swings in certain individuals. There is also the risk of over-consuming carbohydrates on a vegan diet, especially since legumes are often consumed as a protein source but are very high in carbohydrates.”
In addition, she explained that some individuals may be apprehensive about plant-based products as calcium tends to be lower. This can lead to concerns about bone health and potentially osteoporosis. Also, “People with allergies or sensitivities to certain plant-based foods such as soy, nuts or gluten may need to ensure their diet is well-balanced and free from allergens,” Perry said.
At RIBUS, Peirce Kasch noted, “There are so many plant-based options available in the food and nutraceutical markets. RIBUS has a portfolio of only eight ingredients, but these products are all plant-based and are functional alternatives to their synthetic counterparts,” she said. “From our perspective, manufacturers should ask their customers what ingredients they don’t want to see on labels, and try to find a clean-label alternative that will meet their request while satisfying production requirements.”
Jeanroy noted, “Manufacturers of finished products have a strategic opportunity to respond to the burgeoning market demand for sustainable and ethical choices by harnessing the potential of plant-based and vegan ingredients.” To capitalize on the benefits of plant-based and vegan ingredients, Jeanroy said, manufacturers should focus heavily on comprehensive research. “Identifying suitable and readily available options that effectively replicate the properties of animal-based ingredients, such as collagen, keratin, hyaluronic acid is crucial,” noted Jeanroy. “A novel approach involves understanding the mechanisms of action exhibited by animal-based counterparts and endeavoring to replicate these functionalities within plant-based alternatives.” Such an approach, Jeanroy said, not only reduces the reliance on animal-derived sources but also increases the body’s capacity to enhance its natural production process.
“By pursuing this innovative approach, manufacturers can offer products that resonate with both ethical and sustainability concerns. This strategic alignment not only satisfies current market demands but also positions manufacturers at the forefront of a movement that embraces a holistic approach to consumer well-being, while contributing to a more environmentally conscious industry,” Jeanroy noted.
At HP Ingredients, Eng suggested that brands start simply. “Wherever possible, replace ingredients that originate with animal sources—e.g., chitin-derived ingredients—with plant-based counterparts,” she said. “If formulating a condition-specific product, seek herbs that have been shown through human clinical research to achieve the health objective. For example, utilizing herbs such as Andrographis paniculata as ParActin for joint health over chondroitin.”
It’s important to note that addressing consumer concerns is an important step for manufacturers. The ingredient is plant-based, but does it have bacterial or other contamination? Eng asked. “For any plant-based ingredient to receive traction, it needs to be organic.”
Becker noted that the rising demand for meat-free alternatives will continue, and will likely include the number of farmers entering this category. “In recent years, consumer demand for plant-based meat has often outpaced the industry’s supply chain capabilities,” Becker said. “In order to keep pace with the rapidly expanding demand for plant-based ingredients in the coming decade, the plant-based protein industry will need to make significant investments to expand manufacturing capacity and scale the ingredient supply chain.”
Plant-based and vegan products are quite likely here to stay. With continued consumer interest and new opportunities for growth, manufacturers and brands that utilize ingredients in this category may have a leg up on their competitors. NIE
1 “Emerging Trends in the Plant-Based Industry,” Mintel: www.mintel.com/food-and-drink-market-news/emerging-plant-based-trends/#:~:text=Plant%2Dbased%20innovations%20are%20making,household%2C%20fashion%20and%20apparel%20categories.
2 “Emerging Trends in the Plant-Based Industry,” Mintel: www.mintel.com/food-and-drink-market-news/emerging-plant-based-trends/#:~:text=Plant%2Dbased%20innovations%20are%20making,household%2C%20fashion%20and%20apparel%20categories.
3 “Worldwide Growth of Veganism,” The Vegan Society: www.vegansociety.com/news/media/statistics/worldwide.
For More Information:
Glanbia Nutritionals, www.glanbianutritionals.com/en
HP Ingredients, https://hpingredients.com/
RIBUS, Inc, https://ribus.com/
Vivion LLC, https://vivion.com/