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Plant-based products: Sowing the seeds of a sustainable future – article

Plant-based products: Sowing the seeds of a sustainable future – article
Consumers are overwhelmingly embracing plant-based eating as a focus on sustainability and improved health considerations take center-stage.

Consumers are embracing plant-based eating in record numbers, accepting plant-based meat analogues and alternative dairy in ways that might once have been thought unimaginable. Plant-based eating is on the rise globally and the United States market is booming, having reached $7 billion, with sales growth of 27% in 2020.[1]

With climate change, sustainability and health being top-of-mind for many consumers, growing awareness about the value and importance of plant-forward products are certainly propelling the market. But while greater demand for plant-based eating clearly opens new market opportunities, what’s particularly exciting in the space is innovation – the quality and variety of products that can be created to meet flavor and texture expectations. Formulation technologies and ingredient innovation are enabling the design of products that consumers prefer – and will purchase repeatedly.

These food and beverages now enjoy an extensive health halo. Consumers around the world are associating plant-based eating with day-to-day health and life-long well-being. They also are considering environmental health for the world in which they live. According to insight from HealthFocus International’s report, “Navigating the World of Plant,” almost half or more of respondents link a range of health and environmental benefits to plant-based foods and beverages:

Qualities that are extremely/very important in the purchase of plant-based foods for global shoppers

Promotes long-term health 63%
Promotes daily health 62%
Helps prevent disease 60%
Eating clean 58%
More energy 57%
It's a lifestyle preference 52%
Enviromental/sustainability reasons 49%
Better treatment of animals 48%

Source: HealthFocus International. 2019 Global report “Navigating the World of Plant.”

These consumer attitudes have introduced both opportunity and interesting challenges for brands and food formulators. Beyond the issues of substituting animal proteins for plant-based proteins, product developers increasingly have to think about sourcing ingredients and producing finished products in ways that are sustainable and transparent.

Ingredion believes the future of protein is plant-based and that the trend will play an important role in the future of food. Ingredion has taken a leadership position to not only provide a deep understanding of evolving consumer perceptions, but also to develop an extensive portfolio of sustainably sourced and manufactured plant-protein ingredients for groundbreaking food and beverages.

Data from Euromonitor International reiterates that both plant-based and clean label attributes are boosting growth across multiple product categories around the world, with ongoing expansion predicted for clean label dairy alternatives, meat alternatives, and ready meals. While APAC remains the largest region for these products, emerging rapid growth is expected in both North America and EMEA through 2025.[2]

By conducting consumer research on plant-based attitudes, Ingredion has developed deep understanding of consumer interest in these products and their priorities for both health and sustainability.  

For example, Ingredion has learned that plant-based proteins are now an important option for a majority of consumers. “We’ve learned that more than 80% of U.S. consumers consider ‘high protein’ to be an important factor when buying a food or beverage product in the United States. And 65% of these consumers are looking for products made with plant-based proteins,” said Yadu Dar, director of the plant-based proteins platform for Ingredion.  “When asked why, most consumers in the study stated that they considered plant based-proteins to be healthier and better for the environment.  Consumer data released by the Plant Based Food Association in April 2021 also supports this observation.”  

With boosted awareness about health and more shoppers preparing food at home, the 2020 pandemic actually accelerated this trend, with about one in four consumers noting they began buying more plant-based protein sources, plant-based dairy and plant-based meat alternatives.[3] In addition, data indicates the pandemic heightened consumer concern and interest in broader issues such as transparent food supply chains, supporting local businesses and workers, and food insecurity and social justice.[4] These effects will likely boost the already growing impact that sustainability attributes have on product purchase.

Supporting sustainability

In light of these developments, Ingredion is making a strong commitment to not only provide functional plant-based ingredients, but also to source and produce them sustainably. The goal is to help customers, brands and manufacturers, understand what is important to consumers and then reach corresponding sustainability and transparency goals.

Ingredion’s plant-based protein portfolio, for instance, uses much lower water and energy as compared to an equivalent amount of animal protein and are associated with lower amounts of greenhouse gas emissions based on calculations, Dar explained. “This is one of the reasons behind how plant proteins contribute to making sustainable food products. Thus, consumers looking to support sustainability and animal welfare initiatives can do so by increasing their consumption of products made using plant-based protein ingredients.”

Beyond a commitment to advance breakthroughs in plant-based proteins, Ingredion took actions to expand its North American supply chain. In 2021, to help meet the growing demand for sustainably sourced plant-based proteins, the company opened a new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in South Sioux City, Nebraska.

“Many new plant-based food and beverages launched in North America have used pea protein isolate and pea starch due to the demand for healthy and sustainable products. However, the majority of these ingredients have been imported from other countries.   Ingredion took a significant step in setting up the manufacturing of pea protein isolate and pea starch in North America to bridge this supply gap and provide North American manufacturers with locally-sourced products,” Dar said. “This supports both local manufacturing and local agriculture.  Ingredion sources the raw material for its North American-produced plant-based proteins from within a few hundred miles of its facilities, greatly reducing the environmental impact when compared to products requiring significant shipping. Further, the presence of this facility will support the development of local infrastructure and supply chain initiatives enabling further economic development.”

Ingredion also brings a long-term view to these efforts. It has announcing its goal to source 100% of its priority crops sustainably by 2025, which is part of Ingredion’s ALL LIFE Environmental, Social and Governance initiative, Dar noted. “As part of this initiative, Ingredion is supporting sustainable and regenerative agriculture initiatives which help make life better for growers, mitigate supply chain risks, and drive food security.  A key need in the area is the development of industry-wide regenerative agriculture standards.”

With respect to these goals, Dar acknowledged that there are challenges ahead to support growers and measure progress. As explained within Ingredion’s Sustainability Report, the company will use its Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform’s Farm Sustainability Assessment, which assesses growers against more than 100 indicators, and provides a framework to engage farmers in a dialogue on how Ingredion can support efficient and sustainable growing practices. “Our biggest hurdle is working with growers when the crop is purchased on the open market, because those are the relationships where we don’t always have direct interaction with the farmers themselves” Dar explained. “We ultimately hope that progression of our sustainable agriculture program will lead to better soil health, more climate resiliency, and better economic performance for our growers.”


[1] Plant Based Foods Association. Retail Sales Data. https://www.plantbasedfoods.org/retail-sales-data/

[2] Euromonitor Report. World Market for Health and Wellness Packaged Foods, January 2021.

[3] Atlas Ingredion Proprietary Consumer Research, U.S. 2020.

[4] The Hartman Group. COVID-19: The Disruptive Force that Defined 2020. What  we will Explore in 2021.