Six plant-based trends for food and beverage firms to exploit in 2021

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Six plant-based trends for food and beverage firms to exploit in 2021

Related tags plant based

Plant-based foods have shot up in popularity over the last couple of years with the numbers of vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians increasing rapidly, although from a small base since 2016.

Investment firm UBS forecasts the global plant-based meat market will grow by 28% a year and reach $85 billion by 2030, presenting huge opportunities for those businesses investing in plant-based and sustainable alternatives.

This excites the sustainability consultancy Tasting the Future, which aims to transform food systems. Its new report explores six plant-based food and beverage trends for 2021.

High protein leguminous crops

Tasting the Future’s founder Mark Driscoll said there were a number of so-called ancient grains or orphan or forgotten crops that the food industry could be tapping to exploit demand for high protein leguminous crops.  

"Legumes are often valued worldwide as a kind of sustainable and inexpensive meat alternative and are becoming one of the most important food sources of plant-based proteins and micronutrients,”​ he told FoodNavigator, adding they have the potential to solve a number of problems including a ‘significant opportunity to improve human and planetary health’.

Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, yellow split peas, ground nuts and millets are nutritionally valuable, providing proteins (20-45%) with essential amino acids, complex carbohydrates (approx. 60%) and dietary fibre (5-30%). In addition, they boast the ability to fix nitrogen and improve soil health.

"They are often called forgotten crops because the research community have really ignored them in terms of investment,”​ added Driscoll.

The world, meanwhile, is dominated by the four crops: rice, maize, wheat and soya bean, providing over 50% of plant-based human foods. “But I think with the right investment and engagement with farmers at a community level, they are certainly very scalable. Both private and public sector investors need to focus on what I would call crop diversity. We need to diversify some of the 70,000 edible crops that can be eaten by humans and make more use of culturally appropriate foods.”​ 

Novel plant-based foods

Room for diversification means plant-based fermented foods, cheeses, fish, chicken, and milks are some of those plant-based ingredients that Driscoll expects will gain increasing traction and market share.

Plant-based meals at home

There is another area ripe for innovation. “​In the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing impact that has had of the food service sector, expect to see more options for those who want to enjoy their favourite restaurant- plant-based foods from the comfort of the home,”​ he said. “Plant-based recipe boxes, delivery companies and those specialising in plant-based meal kits could do well.”

More attention on the sustainability and health credentials of plant-based foods 

While he wants more diversity with the crops explored by the food and beverage community, at the same time, however, Driscoll expects more attention on the sector’s health and environmental claims.

"I think some of the health and nutrition credentials of these products, particularly where they are heavily processed, are increasingly going to be challenged,”​ he said. “Novel and orphan crops that are combined with lots of saturated fats, sugars and salts to tap into the barriers around taste and texture are probably not the direction of travel because the health credentials of some of these products are increasingly going to be questioned by investors and consumers."​ 

Renewed focus on taste and texture​ 

Expect more attention too on taste and texture, which will remain key priorities for plant-based product developers over the next few years, according to Driscoll.

“Further innovation in both meat and dairy substitutes is the key to growth in this market,” ​he explained.

“Technological advances will continue to enable plant-based alternatives, such as soy, peas, and nuts, to taste somewhat like meat or dairy-based products (for example the use of extrusion technologies). Some researchers are focused on developing new manufacturing technologies to bio mimic animal meat whilst others are identifying new ways to mix plant ingredients to create a fibrous texture.”

Immune system boosting plant ingredients and diets

Lastly, Tasting the Future has identified that consumers are increasingly making the link between gut and immune health.

There is  a large body of evidence highlighting that diets based on more plants, including vegetables, nuts, and wholegrains, combined with lifestyle choices, can have an anti-inflammatory effect and can boost immunity,”​ said Driscoll. “Ingredients that claim to support sleep and mental wellness also seem to be gaining more traction in recent months.”

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