Millennials are set to become the largest living generation, by population numbers and in annual spending. And their interest in health-conscious foods is transforming the food landscape, driving the proliferation of plant-based foods.
According to a study by analytics firm GlobalData, a whopping 70% of the world’s population is reducing their meat consumption or skipping meat altogether. In America, the number of people identifying themselves as vegan has increased by 600% since 2015. In addition to long-established groups like vegetarians and vegans, food producers have adopted the term “flexitarians” to identify consumers who are deliberately reducing their meat intake, without eliminating animal products from their diets. This trend is being driven by younger generations, who want to eat food that they feel good about, which includes knowing the origins of their food, caring for the planet, caring for animal welfare, and making healthy nutritional choices.
Food Producers are Changing Product Offerings
In response to this changing demand, there has been an explosion of plant-based foods and plant proteins. Grocery giant Walmart has asked suppliers to increase their offerings of vegetarian and vegan foods, and the overwhelming response to Burger King’s Impossible Whopper has led the company to add even more meat-free burgers to their menu. DisneyWorld has added 400 new plant-based menu items to the menu at their theme parks.
For food suppliers, this rapid shift creates both new opportunities and new challenges. Many food suppliers are eager to modify existing products to reduce meat content, or to develop new plant-based alternatives, but face unexpected challenges.
- Supply shortages. In order to launch a new product offering, food companies need suppliers that can deliver vegetable and vegetarian ingredients in large quantities, of consistent quality, all year long. While the meat agricultural industry has had decades to perfect industrial farming methods that can reliably meet these demands, many grain and vegetable farms (particularly organic farms) may not be able to scale up quickly enough to meet this new demand.
- Branding challenges. Studies show that vegetarian and flexitarian consumers are skeptical of plant-based foods from established meat-product brands. As food giants like Tyson Foods and Hormel add more plant-based products to their offerings, consumers who associate those brands with meat products and factory farms are less likely to adopt their lower-meat options. For the new generation of consumer, “feeling good” about their dietary choices goes beyond the ingredients on the label, and includes choosing local, organic brands without the baggage of factory farming.
- Transparency demands. This increased scrutiny of food choices calls for a kind of radical transparency that large food companies may struggle to meet. Consumers want to know exactly where their food comes from, and that it is grown without chemicals, hormones, or pesticides. They also want to know that their food is produced in an environmentally sound and sustainable way, with responsible use of land, water, and carbon. They want their food to be cruelty-free, which means a good quality of life for livestock, and also respect for human labor. They want to buy food from companies that have a positive impact on the earth and on their communities. They want their food to have less packaging, and for that packaging to be recyclable. In other words, their desires and expectations far exceed the legal requirements for labeling and disclosure. While these trends have been growing for decades, many big food companies will struggle to alter their philosophy and business practices to meet these expectations and build a relationship with this exacting consumer.
This is why the current vegetarian and flexitarian food supplier market is largely driven by startups, who enter the market with a wholesome image and without the brand baggage that troubles many established food suppliers. But the question remains of whether these startups can deliver product on a global scale.
At BeefyGreen, we are specialized in helping food companies and food suppliers develop products to meet these new challenges. From our oyster mushroom production facilities in the heart of the Netherlands, we collaborate with food companies to customize vegetarian and reduced-meet foods that meet the demands of a new generation of consumer.