By all accounts, plant nutrition is booming, with the industry now reaching a $5 billion value, growing 11% in the past year and 29% over the past two years, reports SPINS. According to ADM research, 50% of consumers are following a plant-protein lifestyle. And, the trend for plant nutrition continues to grow during the global pandemic, as ADM research indicates 18% of current U.S. meat alternative category buyers bought their first meat alternative within March and April 2020 (during COVID-19), with top motivations including the beliefs that plant protein alternatives are healthier in general and safer than real meat.1
So, what’s contributing to the rise in demand for plant proteins? Today’s consumer base for plant nutrition is wider than ever, encompassing vegetarians and vegans—and most of all, flexitarians, who represent a big opportunity for the plant protein market. As consumers increasingly prioritize issues related to the environment, health, and social and animal welfare when making purchasing decisions, the need for responsible plant proteins has never been stronger.
The new plant protein shopper, at a glance
According to ADM research, parents are an important target demographic for this booming plant protein market. ADM’s flexitarian segmentation research shows a significant portion of consumers following a flexitarian lifestyle are younger, have children in the household and are more open to a wide range and combination of plant protein sources.1 Parents are more likely than non-parents to seek plant proteins through family-friendly foods.2
No longer interested in a reductive approach to nutrition like counting calories, today’s consumers want clean foods with overall health and wellness benefits. And, because they’re busier than ever—especially our flexitarian parents—they turn to functional foods and beverages to achieve their nutritional goals. Parents are making a conscious effort to monitor their childrens’ intake of “plus” ingredients – 52% of North American parents consider protein the most important to their childrens’ health, 49% say the same of omega-3s and 46% say the same of fiber.3
The challenge and opportunity to add more nutrition is answered by leaning into plant proteins. They’re available in a wide range of formats, from powders and concentrates to whole foods inclusions, but not all are created equal. The key for brands is choosing a partner that will meet their formulation demands around texture, taste, nutrition, functionality and color – a partner who solves for the entire consumer-preferred food and beverage experience.
Innovative ingredients in plant nutrition
While soy remains an established option in the plant protein category, it’s by no means the only alternative. Other ingredients are also stepping in to elevate plant protein. It’s important to look beyond soy and leverage some of today’s consumers’ favored ingredients, including beans and legumes, lentils, pea protein, seeds and nuts. ADM research found that today’s flexitarian consumers view these ingredients as the healthiest, most nutritious, best tasting and most environmentally-friendly plant proteins.1
“As more protein-enriched plant protein products compete for market share, those who incorporate additional value-adds such as functional health claims, clean labels and other nutritional considerations will win,” says Jacquelyn Schuh, product marketing director, alternative proteins and specialty ingredients at ADM.
Because flavor is important, offering alternatives to and hybrid (plant and meat) versions of various types of meat and seafood in a range of unique flavor profiles and family-friendly formats can entice consumers—think innovations such as vegan fish sticks, cheesy bean chicken nuggets and chicken shawarma meatballs. Such innovations and ADM applications will appeal to devout plant lovers and veg-curious consumers alike. Of course, incorporating other consumer-perceived healthful inclusion ingredients such as hemp seeds, chickpeas, quinoa, navy beans and pumpkin seeds into an overall clean formulation is critical to completing the equation.
Finding the right partner
So how can a brand get from knowing what consumers want to formulating it? To meet these evolving—and increasingly elevated—needs of consumers, partnering with a supplier that has the knowledge and experience to offer a robust portfolio of clean, functional protein ingredients. “As a one-stop provider of a wide range of versatile proteins, ADM is able to develop a variety of products that meet consumer demand for more plant-based options in new forms, and curate customized blends of these proteins to deliver what’s next in plant nutrition,” says Kurt Long, director of flexitarian solutions at ADM.
About our partner: ADM
With a broad portfolio of ingredients, technical expertise, market insights and sensory capabilities, ADM provides support from initial concept to product commercialization.
ADM offers consumer trends and brand strategy, product development and commercialization and supply management. Learn more at ADM.com.
1 ADM OutsideVoiceSM Protein Segmentation Report, November 2019
2 Mintel “Plant-Based Proteins” Report, May 2019
3 FMCG Guru 2020