- Demand for plant-based product development has spiked by close to 140%, Nellson, a manufacturer specializing in the production of bars, beverages and powders, told NutraIngredients-USA. Plant-based products are in high demand because they satisfy consumer desire for “clean,” natural products with recognizable ingredients and functional benefits.
- Last year, plant-based formulations composed about 60% of all orders to Nellson, Bart Child, the company's senior vice president of development, told the publication. This compares with just 25% in 2015.
- The high-growth plant protein market still lacks granular market research, but insight from manufacturers, like that offered by Nellson, helps illustrate how the plant-based trend is progressing. Revenue from plant-based products rose 38% during the past year compared to only 2% for whey, Child said.
The movement toward plant-based products, regardless of ingredient source, is being driven by two big trends in the food space: protein demand and clean eating. “Younger consumers, especially millennials, are looking for an alternative for red meat, but they don’t want to give up protein,” Guy Crosby, science editor for America’s Test Kitchen and an adjunct associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, told Food Dive.
According to HealthFocus data, 17% of U.S. consumers aged 15 to 70 claim to eat a predominately plant-based diet, while 60% report to be cutting back on meat-based products. Of those who are reducing their intake of animal-based proteins, 55% say the change is permanent, and 22% hope that it is.
Fortunately for consumers, scientists and ingredient manufacturers have been working to find alternatives to meat that create satisfying, protein-filled foods. A wide variety of protein sources are being used as ingredients, such as rice, peas, potato, pumpkin, black bean, algae, chia, hemp and soy.
Research from SPINS substantiates the trend Nellson is observing in the plant-based product space. SPINS data finds that from 2015 to 2016, sales of energy bars and gels with soy increased just 2%. Meanwhile, meal replacements and supplement powders made with high-growth protein newcomers, such as peas, beans and algae, saw an 18.7% rise.
Some big companies are investing in the plant protein space, targeting dairy, meat alternatives, protein bars and powders. Danone acquired fast-growing organic foods maker WhiteWave earlier this year, giving the company a premier position in soy and plant-based products through products like Silk and SO Delicious.
Last year, Tyson acquired a 5% stake in Beyond Meat, which uses non-meat protein sources such as soy and pea to create plant-based, meat-like products. And earlier this year, the original PowerBar launched a line of plant protein bars while personal care brand Burt’s Bees launched plant-based protein shakes.
There’s substantial interest among a broad swath of manufacturers to enter the high-growth, plant-based protein space. Still, some challenges remain when working with plant-based proteins. First and foremost, products must taste good, but concerns also remain about whether the products will be scalable and cheap enough to attract enough consumers.