The following is a guest post from Gregory Banzon, the Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Century Pacific Food since 2018. Prior to this, he served in various roles including Vice President of marketing of Johnson & Johnson ASEAN, and General Manager of Johnson & Johnson Indonesia and RFM.
The plant-based industry is burgeoning with new options as the trend of a flexible diet, one that incorporates both plant-based and meat options, grows in popularity. By infiltrating an entirely new sector, the canned aisle of the grocery store, and identifying an expanding customer demographic, the flexitarian, food and beverage companies can experience an increase in sales, recognition and retailer distribution.
The flexitarian diet, or a semi-vegetarian diet, is a plant-forward diet that incorporates dairy and eggs and allows room for meat occasionally. A flexitarian is defined as someone who consumes at least two plant-based products a month. We see this as the future of health and wellness. According to a recent Numerator study on engaging the flexitarian shopper, 1 in 2 U.S. households are already buying plant-based foods, and 98% of consumers who buy plant-based meat are also buying animal meat. Additionally, per the same study, nearly 72 million households in the U.S. are flexitarian, with 79% of Generation Z consumers going meatless weekly. And more than half of younger Americans (aged 24-29) identify as flexitarian, according to a survey of 2000 people.
The benefits of incorporating a flexitarian lifestyle
Despite its popularity, only 20% of households consider themselves true flexitarians, as many may not know the fairly low threshold it takes to be considered part of the category. There are numerous health benefits associated with the plant-forward diet, including lower blood pressure, a healthier heart and weight loss. Not only is adding plant-based options into meal plans beneficial for the consumer, it’s also beneficial for the environment by mitigating climate change. According to a Nature study, adopting a flexitarian diet globally could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than half and also reduce other environmental impacts, such as fertilizer application and the use of cropland and freshwater, by a tenth to a quarter.
A report from the United Nations Environment Programme cites that animal products require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant-based options. And, as the global population grows, there will not be enough animal meat left to realistically sustain humanity on meat consumption alone. Switching to a diet that incorporates plant-based foods can help feed the projected world population of 10 billion by 2050. Researchers found that it is not possible to successfully mitigate climate change without a higher adoption rate of the flexitarian lifestyle. It’s important to show consumers that it is easy and entirely possible to include plant-based options into their diet.
The barriers to trying plant-based alternatives
The Numerator report shows an 80% repeat rate for American consumers who choose to buy plant-based again. However, there are some barriers in the plant-based category, including price, taste and understanding how to cook with plant-based foods.
Consumers have a need for shelf-stable proteins, as they look for options outside of the frozen aisle of the grocery store.Shelf-stable products last longer, with refrigerated meats only lasting about a week, frozen up to 12 months and canned products lasting years.
The impact of canned products on the plant-based market
The shelf-stable segment could impact the future of plant-based foods, as it’s the largest driver of growth in the market, according to the State of Plant-Based Foods report by the Plant-Based Foods Association. The report shows that shelf stable has become a $40 million category and experienced an 82% growth rate last year alone. It is the only segment that doubled in size compared to 2021, and this growth rate has offset some of the decline in refrigerated plant-based foods.
With the inflationary environment, consumers are rediscovering the advantages of canned products by buying food already in portion sizes that are usually pre-cooked and can conveniently be stored for extended periods. Additionally, canned foods are generally 30% cheaper than their frozen counterparts because of the simpler supply chain the format requires and less spoilage. Our aim at unMEAT is to develop an expansive range of canned plant-based dishes and food options to make it easier for consumers to transition to a plant-forward diet.
My hope is that the shelf-stable plant-based market continues to grow, and that those considering a flexitarian lifestyle find delicious products that make them want to buy plant-based again. It’s also crucial to provide consumers with price accessible options, so they don’t walk away from the category based on price alone. Creating healthy, tasty and affordable plant-based options and coupling that with canned offerings may lead to a change in the future of plant-based foods as well as an increase in those considering a more flexible diet.