Healthy lunch table scene with nutritious Buddha bowl, lettuce wraps, vegetables, sandwiches and salad. Above view over a wood background.
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Wednesday, November 23rd, 2022

Looking forward, looking back – the plant-based journey in 2022 and predictions for 2023

On November 29, ProVeg International and Innova Market Insights will present a webinar looking at how plant-based trends played out in 2022 and which trends will define the sector in 2023. Ahead of the insightful presentation from Innova’s Myrthe de Beukelaar, we take a quick look at the recent growth of the plant-based sector, and explore the challenges and opportunities coming up in 2023.

Source: Innova Market Insights

Over the last few years, the plant-based sector has been on an exciting journey that has innovated the food and drink sector. However, the sector is still in its infancy and looks set to bring breakthroughs to the broader industry for years to come. From serving a mostly vegetarian market to becoming a creative canvas for some of the world’s greatest chefs, the sector has grown beyond all recognition in the last few years, offering a diversity of choices for everyone regardless of diet. Innova Market Insights’ annual Top Ten Trends has tracked this evolution, with the plant-based category featuring across multiple years. Each inclusion marks both another stage in its growing popularity and the development of more involved and informed consumer demands. This rise has also been inextricably linked to other recent social, environmental, and technological advances.

For 2023, Innova’s Top Ten Trends has identified that the idea of ‘unlocking a new narrative’ will be of great importance to the plant-based sector. This recognises that underused ingredients and technology-enabled new formats must be optimised in order to create the high-quality products demanded by the sector. Moreover, these things must be utilised to give improved taste and texture profiles to both new and existing products, at a price that consumers are willing and able to meet. 

So, how did plant-based get to where it is and what is next on the horizon?

Register for the webinar

Register today for ‘Looking forward, looking back – plant-based trends from 2022 and predictions for 2023’. This webinar, hosted by ProVeg International in partnership with Innova Market Insights, will delve into what developments we can expect in the plant-based sector in 2023 and how businesses can capitalise on them.

Plant-based for all reasons

Trend forecasting is a story of evolving and interdependent sectors quickly confronting new challenges – and nowhere is this more evident than in the plant-based trends identified by Innova. At the end of 2020, consumer demand for plant-based products was huge across all locations and demographics. Flexitarianism had become – to steal a popular phrase from those pandemic times – a ‘new normal’, with Innova’s consumer research finding that 60% of households were eating meat-free meals at least once a week, and for a multitude of reasons. For some people, it was due to environmental motivations – both with a view to sustainability and to meet changing ethical values. Given the all-encompassing nature of COVID-19, health was also a major driver of consumer food choices. Other consumers simply wanted to add variety to their diets; something new, interesting, and satisfying to try at a time when lockdowns had left food as one of the main sources of entertainment and surprise.

Satisfying the demand for variety and sustainability in product offerings necessitated a widening of crop sources and an increased need for better technologies such as advanced fermentation. At the same time, in the eyes of many people, ‘plant-based’ became synonymous with ‘healthy’. This gave rise to a positive single selling point for plant-based products – beyond them being mere meat and dairy substitutes. Sauces, dressings, snacks, baby food, and prepared meals were among the categories that benefited from a rise in consumer interest and trust levels. 

Between 2016/17 and 2020/21, launches of products described as ‘plant-based’ increased at a CAGR of +51.9%, outstripping launches of meat and dairy alternatives, which were themselves rising at a significant rate.[1] The sector was fast establishing its significance by striving to offer something new and different for everyone.

Growing in every direction

By the end of 2021, the increased breadth and depth of the consumer base was reflected in Innova’s number-two trend for 2022. ‘Plant-Based: The Canvas for Innovation’ recognised the scope for novel products and production techniques and the need for the plant-based sector to increase its relevance by satisfying the diversity of consumer demands. By this point, there were more flexitarians than vegans and vegetarians combined. Innova forecast that success would come from products that were not only tasty and nutritious in their own right, but could also be blended with dairy and meat in order to appeal to those looking for reduced consumption of animal-based products rather than total elimination. It was no longer a case of either/or. There was particular interest from younger consumers – offering a potentially sustainable and growing purchasing base – and double-digit annual growth in plant-based and vegan positionings across every region. Meanwhile, major retailers were announcing increased shelf space for plant-based food and beverages, meaning that every player involved in the journey from production to consumption was on-board and invested.

Source: Innova Market Insights

Consumers were, as always, very clear about what they wanted, and vocal about what they saw as the shortcomings or limitations of plant-based products. Respondents to the Innova Trends Survey 2021 listed taste, texture and price as the main barriers to making purchases. For every person who thought that plant-based products tasted better, there were slightly more people who thought they tasted worse. 

An answer lay in the number three trend for 2022, ‘Tech to Table’. Certainly, there is an increased need for more advanced ingredients and formulation strategies in order to address concerns over taste and texture. Interestingly, we have found that advances in plant-based production encourage consumers to embrace novel technologies in all sectors. Indeed, if it helps to make products healthier, safer, more environmentally friendly, and tastier, consumers say they are happier to buy into new methods of production.

Bringing gastronomy home

As we head towards 2023, Innova will continue to track the effects of rapid expansion on the plant-based sector. As is common with all large established categories (which plant-based most certainly is by now) there are some signs of slowdown. Both the value and volume of sales are forecast to grow less quickly into next year, but they will still grow. Meanwhile, Innova’s 2022 Trends Survey showed that consumers still want improvements in texture and taste but are now seeking standalone products and regional flavour profiles much more than meat- and dairy-mimicking. New and established brands are responding with interesting, indulgent, creative, and premium offerings. 

Celebrity chefs everywhere are now creating astonishing meals with plants and sharing them with the world. Famous chef Jamie Oliver regularly shares meat-free meals across every available form of media, and even Gordon Ramsay includes vegan recipes on his YouTube channel and restaurant menus. Likewise, vegan chefs are winning Michelin stars and being featured on the world’s favourite TV cooking shows. On top of this, supermarkets, brands, and retailers now offer plant-based ranges that are ‘chef-created’ or ‘chef-inspired’, signposting the improved flavour profiles of today’s plant-based convenience products. All this will go a huge way towards tackling consumer uncertainties over taste. 

Price can always be a turnoff, especially during a cost-of-living crisis, but so too are over-processed or artificial ingredients. This comes through loud and clear in Innova’s top two trends for 2023: ‘Redefining Value’ and ‘Affordable Nutrition’. Consumers aren’t just looking for the cheap option, rather, they are looking for the highest quality product at the best price. Innova’s 2022 Lifestyle & Attitudes Survey revealed that fresh and healthy products, as well as locally sourced and functional ingredients, are all highly valued, in addition to products that have been ethically produced. Success in 2023 will come to brands that can give consumers what they want while remaining price competitive. As such, maximising the potential of ingredients and production technologies is key.

Unlocking the new narrative around the plant-based category involves the sector proudly standing up for its own diversity and quality. During the darkest days of the pandemic, the kitchen arguably became the happiest and most important room in the house. Consumers became more invested in and knowledgeable about what they eat, as well as more adventurous and skilled in the kitchen. This shift offers brands opportunities to bring the flavours consumers know and love straight to their pan via meal kits and creative aids. Combined with the endorsements and ideas of top chefs and the ever-growing options offered on restaurant menus, consumers have never been more open to plant-based food and its gastronomic possibilities. In such an environment, brands have a significant opportunity to diversify and expand in 2023.

Register for the webinar

Register today for ‘Looking forward, looking back – plant-based trends from 2022 and predictions for 2023’. This webinar, hosted by ProVeg International in partnership with Innova Market Insights, will delve into what developments we can expect in the plant-based sector in 2023 and how businesses can capitalise on them.

*This article was provided by Innova Market Insights.

References

References
1 Innova Market Insights (2022): Global product launches tracked by Innova New Product Database (2016/17 – 2020/21, 12-month periods ending Q2).

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