More consumers are trying plant-based protein alternatives 

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 898 views 

Home consumption of plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy is up 12% over the past three years according to data from NPD Group. The research group found dairy alternatives are leading the charge, but there is also a growing number of consumers trying meat alternatives.

NPD said the food transformation is also being led by foodservice offerings. NPD found the increase in foodservice consumption of dairy alternatives rose 21% in 2018 and is up another 19% this year. Alternative dairy consumption since 2017 has risen from 61 million pounds to 88 million pounds.

Darren Seifer, a food analyst with NPD, said in a recent webinar, the push toward dairy alternatives is universal across age demographics. He said Baby Boomers are just as apt to seek out alternative dairy products as Generation Z. Seifer said more of the aging population finds it hard to digest dairy products and that is the primary reason for their making the switch. He said for consumers to switch from traditional dairy or meat to a plant-based product there has to be no sacrifice on quality or functionality.

“Our food habits are very difficult to change because they are habitual and cultural. Even if consumers know there are more healthy options unless the taste, texture and functionality of the product is comparable, they typically won’t stick with the change,” Seifer said during the webinar.

He said the primary reason more consumers are making the switch to meat and dairy alternatives is for the health benefits. He said nearly 90% of the plant-based protein eaters are not vegan nor vegetarian. They are meat-eaters in moderation who are seeking to add more plant-based foods into their diets. Siefer also said consumers will not sacrifice taste at any cost.

Meat alternative production in foodservice since 2017 has grown from 27 million pounds to 51 million pounds this year, a gain of 17% last year and 18% more this year. Seifer said 16% of consumers regularly use plant-based alternatives such as almond milk, tofu and veggie burgers. He said protein remains important to consumers, with 44% of adults seeking more plant-based foods in their diet also looking to add protein. The top reason they give for the diet change is to promote health and wellness.

Seifer said as plant-based protein sources are more pervasive, more demand is needed to generate new markets. He said dairy replacement and meat replacements are leading the pack, with snacks and beverages trailing. But the areas of seafood replacement, or grain replacements, are still low on the spectrum of product availability.

He said the popularity of the Impossible Burger sold by Burger King and the Beyond Meat offerings in retail and foodservice, consumers have the opportunity to test the products. Seifer said for a product to earn a place in this growing market it must deliver on experience. Beyond Meat has a meatball marinara alternative at Subway, a sauce alternative at Dunkin. burgers at TGI Friday’s, Twin Peaks and other national chains. The company offers chicken alternatives at KFC.

Tyson Foods unveiled its plant-based and blended products this summer with frozen burgers and chicken products sold into retail under the Raised and Rooted brand. The meat giant also is offering Aidelis Whole Blends of sausage and meatballs sold into foodservice that made with chicken and plant-based products. Tyson Foods CEO Noel White has said consumers are seeking more protein options from plant-based foods.

“For us, this is about ‘and’ – not ‘or.’ We remain firmly committed to our growing traditional meat business and expect to be a market leader in alternative protein, which is experiencing double-digit growth and could someday be a billion-dollar business for our company,” White said recently.

White said Tyson will continue to invest and support alternative protein sources with stakes in Mycotechnolgy, a mushroom-based protein business and Memphis Meats and Future Meats Technology.

Seifer said for products to be successful they must deliver on taste, texture and even preparation. He said product manufacturers need to take care to optimize product performance and explore ingredients that have the potential to naturally elevate the experience. He said products also have to deliver on function. He said products that serve as ingredients – such as eggs, cheese, creamers or meat crumbles – need to perform similar to traditional counterparts.

He said product manufacturers who can crack the code on function make it easier for consumers to enjoy a plant-based lifestyle. He said products that deliver a solution are also more apt to be adopted by consumers. Plant-based consumers are seeking solutions and ideas on how to incorporate the products into their diets, for meals and snacks. Seifer said suppliers who can make it easy for consumers to plan, prepare, and even grab and go, plant-based options will have a competitive advantage.