Expo reveals plant-based boom

Plant Based World Expo Europe, the largest 100% plant-based trade event in Europe has unveiled future trends and what we can expect from the food industry, marking the beginning of ‘Plant Based 2.0’.

Long-term growth in the plant-based food industry is being led by the UK, one of the largest markets in Europe and growing by 9.58% and London – officially the most vegan-friendly city in the world. The event will be held in London on November 15 & 16.

The global plant-based food market is predicted soar from £13.6 billion in 2021 to $115.3 billion by 2035, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.5 percent. And despite hyper growth followed by industry-wide challenges including the inflation rate for food and drink at 13.6 percent in August 2023, Plant Based World Expo is preparing for its biggest show to date, at a larger venue to accommodate a 20% increase in exhibitors and registered visitors.

With 43% of gen Z claiming to be cutting meat from their diet in 2023, and 16% already having done so, a massive 59% of this generation could be meat-free by the end of the year. And so, the plant-based sector continues to innovate with new alternative proteins and textures. From retail to public sector, high street to hospitals, plant-based options are becoming more readily available. Meanwhile, within the industry, lobbying increases for plant-based subsidies to tackle the impact of animal agriculture on climate change.

High-value plant-based customers

While it’s broadly understood shoppers purchasing plant-based products spend 61% more than the average shopper, according to SPINS data, retailers need to provide quality plant-based products and a broader scope of choice for these valuable customers to maximise basket size.

The onus will be on getting the balance right, and offering a wide enough selection of quality plant-based products to keep high value customers coming back.

Menu choice and quality

In foodservice, while catering to the needs and demands of the public, we’re seeing choice take centre stage and more restaurants are harnessing the power of plant-based. While it’s no longer an option to have just one plant-based item on the menu, we’re also seeing entire vegan menus dedicated to those making choices based on planetary and human health.

Vegetables will reign supreme

We’re already seeing brands such as Symplicity Foods, founded by butcher and chef Neil Rankin, helping chefs, home cooks, caterers and restaurants to reduce their reliance on meat by creating simple and delicious food made with fermented vegetables. We will see this trend continue as more out-of-home dining outlets as well as retailers will seek to offer meat alternatives made from vegetables.

Where caterers have less time to prepare vegetables as centre-of-plate options from scratch, innovative brands that offer cleaner-label solutions can come into play. One such brand exhibiting at Plant Based World Expo is More Foods meat alternative products created using a novel blend of upcycled pumpkin and sunflower seeds to provide an unbelievable texture, taste and feel.

Consumer preference for clean labelling and flavours

While the argument against over-processed foods continues, producers are evolving and many are now making quality, nutritious products for those who turn to them for convenience and affordability. Clean labelling will continue to gain momentum as consumers prioritise flavour and health.

Not only do ingredient decks need to be cleaner, manufacturers must focus on transparency; highlighting which plant-based proteins are used, not just “vegetable protein” but “pumpkin protein” for example. The public will start to understand new foods and proteins from sources beyond the usual meat and soya. To help meet the demands of the clean label-conscious consumer, manufacturers have also ramped up production of natural vegetable flavours using non-GMO approaches.

The rise of affordable proteins 

In response to the cost-of-living crisis, in the UK, we will start to see a shift to more affordable plant proteins. Aberystwyth University has recently announced a new £1m pea protein project to reduce the UK’s reliance on soya imports, and at Plant Based World Expo, Europe’s leading companies will be showcasing affordable protein solutions, including textured pea and fava proteins that don’t compromise on food affordability, taste, texture or appearance.

Public sector campaigns for plant-based meals

The Plant Based Universities campaign is active in more than 50 universities and is gaining momentum. We can expect to see more universities and education settings acting on their own climate research to both limit the public sector’s contribution to the climate and ecological emergency, and to help shift public opinion in favour of a plant-based food system. We can also expect more of the public sector to opt for plant-based menus, as healthcare, prisons and the care sector realise the benefits of providing fewer animal-based meals. By adopting plant-based options, hospitals can improve health outcomes for patients while reducing their carbon emissions.

The government must act  

While Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “This country is proud to be a world leader in reaching Net Zero by 2050,” The National Food Strategy recommended in 2022 a 30% reduction in meat consumption – which some may say is a very conservative approach.

And while the government continues to battle issues from an unhealthy population to the impact of food production on the environment and there will always be a need to drive the economy forward, the plant-based industry could argue that not enough is being done to reduce subsidies to the meat and dairy industries or invest in plant-based alternatives.

The sector itself now has a significant role to play in providing solutions to these problems. “Uniting the Plant-Based Industry to Lobby for Growth,” run by the Plant Based Food Alliance UK will take place at Plant Based World Expo Europe’s conference in November to help address this issue.

Getting the public on side

Global heating demands we educate the public on the importance of their consumption habits, and with no one party responsible, consumer-facing campaign groups will be integral to progress.

An example of a successful campaign with a track-record of encouraging consumers to adopt a vegan diet is Veganuary. The campaign is hugely successful in the UK, Germany and now other countries, and takes pride but doesn’t rest on its laurels, knowing there’s plenty more people to reach.

Vegan food manufacturers are adapting to changing times, strategies are evolving, manufacturers are leveraging economies of scale, and while initial hypergrowth slows, the culture shift is evident; from the availability of plant-based milks to breakfast, lunch and dinner choices available both in the public sector and on the high street.

Founder and chief executive of Plant Futures said: “The plant-based meat sector is hands down, one of the most innovative and forward-thinking categories of the food industry. The future market size is considerable however to reach mass market isn’t easy and often brands and businesses can underestimate the complexities of moving from an ‘early adopter’ to a ‘mass majority’ i.e. mass market – what is known as ‘crossing the chasm’. This is a pivotable point for plant-based meat businesses, to reach the mass market will mean to be ready and prepared for the next wave of consumers, which our insights show are unlikely to be flexitarians. I am excited to be sharing the latest insights into the plant-based meat market at the Plant Based World Expo in November, alongside lead sponsors ProVeg International and Veg Capital.”