Plant-based Meat Alternatives: Perspectives On Consumer Demands And Future Directions


Consumer demands for plant-based products have increased in the past few years. According to reports published by the Plant Based Food Association (PBFA) sales from plant based food was higher than 3 billion in 2018. The high numbers reported shows a promising trend for plant-based meat companies. However the trend begs question are we in a meatless revolution? In this article, executives leading plant-based companies share insights on consumer demands over the past few years and future projections.

“Consumer demand for meat alternatives has grown over the past years as consumers have been on a journey of realization regarding how their lifestyle choices and purchases have an impact on our planet. An increased number of consumers are switching to plant-based diets for many reasons, including: protecting animals, preserving the environment, general health concerns or changing taste preferences. As more consumers seek these alternatives, the market for plant-based proteins is rapidly growing and extending beyond North America and to sources beyond soy and wheat protein. The global market for non-soy, gluten-free plant-based proteins is projected to be $1.5 billion by 2022. As a result, manufacturers are looking at plant-based proteins that offer functional, sustainable and nutritional attributes, inclusive of non-GMO and certified organic options. The combination of consumer concerns with an updated approach from the food industry to develop and deliver meat alternatives with excellent flavor, texture and mouthfeel properties has contributed to the large growth in the meat alternatives market.

Meat alternatives from early to mid-1900’s were developed to replace the center of plate meat products primarily targeting vegans and vegetarians; however, they were not necessarily designed to have an appearance, flavor, or texture matching meat products. Some of these early market products include: tofu, tempeh, seitan and vegetable/rice based burgers and patties. Over time more formats were launched into the marketplace: plant-based sausages, deli slices, crumbles, and chicken nugget formats to name a few. These products contain protein from plants, and were formulated to provide an option for non-meat consumers. As flexitarians, those actively working to reduce meat consumption in their diet, emerge as a larger consumer segment, there is a greater need to produce meat alternatives that closely match the eating experience of beef, chicken and other animal based products.

In North America, meat alternatives sales have grown 37% from 2017 to 2019. This represents a growth in dollar sales from $584 M to $800M from April 2017 through April 2019 (per SPINS Natural and Specialty Channel Data, 52 week period ending April 2019). All market and consumer data, as well as technological and financial investments, indicates this market will continue to develop, grow, and improve with additional product formats, flavors through emerging brands. Additionally, the flavors, textures, mouthfeel and consumer experience will continue to become more sophisticated as ingredients, technologies and process innovation develops over the next 10 years. Consumers desire ‘meat-identical’, meat alternatives and the food industry is working hard to deliver top-notch options.” – Julie Emsing Mann, Global Protein Strategy and Innovation, Plant Based Proteins at Ingredion

“We have seen that consumer demand has increased significantly in the past few years for both plant based dairy and meats although the alt-dairy section is much more mature and has higher penetration as can be evidenced just by walking into a grocery store. Younger millennials as well as GenZs are continuing to grow demand and are often driven by topics such as health, climate change and animal welfare. While still relatively small, plant based meats are rapidly growing. The issue I see currently is that there are many “first wave” brands whose products don’t meet the needs of consumers (lacking taste and mostly based on proteins from known allergens) and newer products that are primarily focused on beef.

There is such a large demand and opportunity for options that are not beef and not in the burger format. From our product voting initiative that we are currently conducting, we see clearly that the consumer do not only want beef. I project that there will be a plant-based meat aisle and deli case in grocery stores with a wide representation of products that are free from meat. I do not believe that the general population will stop eating meat that comes from animals since it’s so deeply ingrained into many food cultures. The shift away from meat will take generations, and I believe that companies that are able to make a diversity of products that prioritize taste, nutrition, and other consumer needs will lead the way. Given that women drive around 80% of purchasing decisions, it is very problematic that the current plant-based meat companies have such few women on their leadership teams. From my perspective, for products to meet the needs of consumers, they need to be made by the people who make the decisions for those in a household.”- Kimberlie Le, Co-founder and CEO Prime Roots

“We observe that consumers outside of traditional vegetarians and vegans are seeking plant based meat alternatives for different reasons. The Good Food Institute reports that 11.9% of U.S. households currently purchase plant-based meat, up from 10.5% a year ago. Another ongoing trend is clean ingredient labels featuring whole vegetables and grains. It’s becoming increasingly important for health-conscious shoppers to see recognizable ingredients on product labels. Consumers are also seeking out trusted third-party certifications on packages. Recognizable symbols that indicate Non-GMO, Gluten Free, Vegan, Kosher and others allow shoppers, especially those with special dietary needs, to feel confidence in what they’re buying. We foresee that plant-based meat-alternatives that attempt to look and taste like meat will continue to receive attention from consumers, media and businesses. We expect this product category to continue to grow as more consumers and food service operators seek out these products. ” -Larry Praeger, CEO Dr. Praeger’s

By Forbes