Plant-based eating was one of the biggest food trends of 2018. Seen more as a lifestyle choice, there are a wealth of reasons why people are shunning animal food products, including the perceived health and wellness benefits, as well as ethical, welfare and environmental concerns. Whatever the motivation, the dietary choice appeals to a wide consumer audience - an advantage, which has undoubtedly helped to fuel its transition into the mainstream.
In fact, more people than ever are eating vegetarian or vegan products. 56 percent of UK adults are now choosing to do so, while the number of US consumers identifying as vegan has increased 500 percent since 2014 to reach six percent of the population.
This marked shift in eating habits has created a buoyant category. Plant-based new product development (NPD) reportedly increased globally at 11 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) during 2013-17 and related on-pack claims increased 62 percent in the same period. In the UK, the share of new meat-free products carrying a ‘vegan’ or ‘no animal ingredients’ claim nearly doubled during 2014-17. This upward trajectory shows no signs of slowing.
Unsurprisingly, product developers have been quick to respond with a raft of innovative food and drink products, with vegetarian and vegan options appearing at a rapid rate across categories. These range from dairy alternatives, where the number of product launches has more than doubled over the last five years globally, to headline-grabbing meat substitutes aimed at a discerning flexitarian audience. Manufacturers continue to raise the bar in terms of taste, nutritional profile and eating enjoyment.
However, as the industry moves to capitalise on this significant opportunity, there is an underlying current of concern. It is becoming increasingly clear that vegan and vegetarian products require a carefully considered manufacturing strategy – after all, the stakes are high. Recent widespread media reports of both vegan and vegetarian products being contaminated with animal-derived ingredients show the impact of such incidents in terms of shaking consumer confidence and potentially damaging brand reputations.
Despite the current lack of legal framework defining what constitutes a vegan or vegetarian claim, producers must ensure that every available step is taken to substantiate these claims.
Published in the Spring 2019 (Volume 22, Issue 2) of New Food.
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