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When plant-based meets clean label: A sweet spot for future innovation?

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

Lumina Intelligence and FoodNavigator look at the future of plant-based innovation
Lumina Intelligence and FoodNavigator look at the future of plant-based innovation

Related tags: Lumina Intelligence, plant-based, Clean label

Demand for plant-based products is booming. However, meat- and dairy-free alternatives are facing something of a challenge as the nutritional content of products comes under the microscope. We suggest that the intersection between clean label and plant-based could prove fertile ground for innovation.

When compared to global meat or dairy sales, plant-based products still represent something of a niche. But demand is rising fast, particularly among flexitarian consumers. In the UK, for instance, sales data from Kantar covering the lockdown period shows meat alternatives are up 25% and free-from milks are up 28% year-on-year.

A survey from The Vegan Society found 21% of people report cutting meat consumption during the coronavirus lockdown. It would appear that, for the time being at least, these consumption patterns have sticking power. In total, 19% of respondents said they would continue to buy plant-based meat alternatives as COVID-19 restrictions ease.

Concerns over animal welfare and a perceived ‘health halo’ are two of the drivers behind the plant-based movement. However, meat analogues are facing increasing scrutiny over their nutritional credentials. The ultra-processed nature of many meat and dairy analogues – necessary to deliver the taste or texture that consumers expect – is being placed under the microscope.

As FoodNavigator told the IFF Plantful Virtual Festival last week, mainstream media outlets from NBC to The Times are probing the ingredient lists of analogue products. Whether it be for high salt, sugar or fat content or the use of GMOs and allergens, the sector is facing pushback.

Plant-based is colliding with another food sector mega-trend: clean label.

As Ewa Hudson, director of insight at Lumina Intelligence explained during the presentation, understandings of clean label have evolved. “Clean label has undergone a major transformation in the last decade. Born as a direct manufacturers’ response to consumer concern around food safety, clean label has moved on to embrace natural foods, nutritious foods and a greater content of plants,”​ she told the online Festival.

Clean label, an industry term, is aligned with responsible sourcing, healthy products and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, Hudson explained.

According to Lumina, a data and insight division of FoodNavigator publisher William Reed Business Media, a scan of 47 CSR reports from the major food and beverage companies found 186 commitments linked to broader clean label trends. “Companies include pledges to remove artificial ingredients, unknown ingredients genetically modified ingredients, or provide transparency about GMOs. They are also widening their offering of plant-based alternatives,”​ Hudson noted.

“These are simple pledges but will result in long-term strategic changes, irrevocably shaping product formulations, NPD pipelines and the whole food supply chain.”

While a new generation of plant-based innovation has been able to develop products that deliver on the organoleptic properties of meat and dairy, plant based 3.0 is likely to achieve this while also reflecting concerns around so-called clean label attributes.

Watch the full presentation from FoodNavigator and Lumina Intelligence here: 

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