The plant-based food boom is heating up. Growth in the segment outpaced all other food categories amid the coronavirus pandemic, with plant-based meat sales up 148 percent in 2020 compared to the year before. Having surpassed the $5 billion mark last year, the overall plant-based food market is set to top $74 billion by 2027.
As brands compete for a slice of the plant-based pie, shoppers can now choose from an ever-growing array of products that tout a taste and texture that's just like the real thing. Here are a few standouts, coming soon to restaurants and grocery shelves near you. (If you plant to sample any of them, please remember to do so safely: Wear a mask, keep your distance and be kind to frontline workers.)
In the ever-growing parade of plant-based food companies, Beyond Meat is arguably leading the pack. After a headline-grabbing IPO in 2019, the brand's expansion to more grocery stores across the U.S. and Canada helped it weather the storm of COVID-19 — and it's yet again preparing for a big year in 2021.
The brand has already announced partnerships with Taco Bell and PepsiCo to develop new products based around plant-based protein. Its partnership with Carl’s Jr. is also expanding to include a new burger flavor (pictured above), and Jindingxuan, a 24-hour Chinese food chain in Beijing, will add eight new dishes featuring Beyond Meat products this year.
The company will move into a new 300,000-square-food global headquarters in El Segundo, California, this fall. Notably, the new HQ will house up to four times more research personnel, with the goal of developing even more protein varieties from plant sources.
Beyond Meat's top rival, Impossible Foods, has yet to announce any new product launches for 2021, but what the brand already sells will be cheaper. At the start of the year, the company announced it would slash prices for foodservice distributors in an effort to reach price parity with real meat.
Distributors in the U.S. will pay about 15 percent less for Impossible beef, burgers and sausages, and the company requested the savings be passed along to restaurants and grocery shoppers. The price cut brings Impossible products closer to real beef, although they are still about $1.50 more per pound. The company said its production has increased by six times since 2019, allowing it to bring costs down further. Restauranteurs and home cooks have already put its ground beef substitute to use in meatballs, empanadas, bao buns and everything in between.
After five years in development, sustainable vegan seafood company New Wave Foods is ready to launch its first product: a plant-based shrimp made from sustainable seaweed and plant proteins. Developed in collaboration with chefs and R&D experts, the company claims the product is "virtually indistinguishable from ocean shrimp in terms of taste and texture."
The shrimp alternative will first roll out to restaurants and foodservice locations this year, and a recently closed $18 million Series A funding round will allow the company to "scale up production" further, it said in January.
Oatly has enjoyed a smash success since its first line of oat milks hit U.S. coffee shops back in 2017. In the years since, the brand has introduced oat milk-based coffee creamers, ice creams, yogurts and cream cheese spreads for the U.S. market. U.K. customers saw the latter— oat milk-based cream cheese in plain, garlic and cucumber, and tomato and basil — appear on store shelves in mid January, the latest evidence of the company's fast expansion. It's reportedly planning to go public this year through an initial public offering.
Ben & Jerry's latest ice cream flavor honors former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his fight for racial justice. Kaepernick's portion of the sale proceeds will support the Know Your Rights Camp, which he founded in Oakland, California, in 2016 to "advance the liberation and well-being of Black and Brown communities."
Featuring caramel, fudge and graham crackers, the non-dairy Change the Whirled flavor (fitting, as Kaepernick is vegan) popped up on store shelves and in Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shops at the start of the year.
The coffee chain introduced the Starbucks Original Nut Blend — a non-dairy milk substitute made from rice, hazelnuts and cashews — in select European markets on Jan. 5. European customers will also see new plant-based breakfast choices this year, including a breakfast sandwich made with Beyond Meat's vegan sausage that complements a similar offering from rival Impossible Foods that is already available in the U.S.
These latest offerings are part of Starbucks' ongoing effort to introduce more plant-based food and beverage choices worldwide. Its partnership with Beyond Meat will extend to new plant-based offerings at more than 200 stores in the Middle East. Last fall, it partnered with both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods to bring custom plant-based offerings to markets across the Asia Pacific, including an Impossible Burger and Sriracha pastry in Hong Kong and a vegan mince and cheese pie in New Zealand.
After exponentially expanding production capacity in 2020, Eat Just is getting creative with new applications for its flagship product, Just Eggs. First on deck is a lineup featuring the plant-based eggs cooked sous vide, a French method that involves slow cooking in water.
Developed in partnership with sous vide food manufacturer Cuisine Solutions, the lineup includes four globally-inspired flavors — such as America, featuring potato, bell pepper, dill and chives, and India, made with curried broccoli and cauliflower. The plant-based bites, which come frozen and can be heated in an oven or microwave, will hit store shelves in March. Just is also looking to crack into the Chinese market this year through a partnership with Dicos, a local rival to McDonald’s and KFC in China.
Dutch brand Schouten has been developing plant-based proteins since the 1990s, far before vegan alternatives were en vogue. Its vast product portfolio now includes over 10 types of plant-based burgers, as well as analog sausages, chicken, bacon, meatballs, schnitzels and more, which ship to more than 50 countries including the U.S. New for 2021 is TuNo, a plant-based tuna alternative and the brand's first foray into alternative seafood.
The company says the new non-tuna can be applied in a range of products for its corporate partners, such as salads, wraps, pizza toppings and ready meals. “All tuna species are heavily overfished and a large number of species are threatened with extinction. Our vegetable tuna has the same bite and taste as real tuna,” Schouten’s product manager Annemiek Vervoort told Food Ingredients First.
The Vegetarian Butcher may seem like a contradiction in terms. But the brand's range of plant-based meats — from burgers and meatballs to bratwurst and shawarma — received top marks from Michelin-star chefs and caught the attention of consumer goods giant Unilever, which acquired The Vegetarian Butcher in 2018. Already available in more than 45 countries, the plant-based meat purveyor will expand to China and Latin America this year thanks to a partnership with Burger King.
A new Whopper featuring The Vegetarian Butcher's burger substitute will rolled out across 325 Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hangzhou locations in January, with a nationwide rollout across China planned for later this year. Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Suriname, Saint Martin, and Saint Kitts will be the first Latin American and Caribbean countries to add the Plant-Based Whopper to their menus this year.
The latest expansion news follows launches from The Vegetarian Butcher across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa in 2020.
Tee Yih Jia Food Manufacturing, a mainstay in Singapore's frozen food aisles and the world’s largest producer of spring roll wrappers, jumped into the plant-based food segment in December 2020. Its new vegan brand, called ALTN, will roll out a range of frozen snacks and ready meals this year, including twists on classic Asian dishes like gyoza, siu mai and Hainanese chicken rice.
Danone's plant-based So Delicious Dairy Free brand is growing with plant-based shredded, sliced and spreadable cheeses coming to store shelves this year. The brand's new shredded and sliced varieties are already available in select U.S. retailers including Target, Walmart, HEB and Hy-Vee, and the spreads will roll out in March.
The new choices — which So Delicious promises taste and cook just like dairy cheese — join the brand's lineup of dairy-free frozen desserts, yogurt alternatives, beverages and creamers.
Best known for consumer brands like Fruity Pebbles cereal and Bob Evans frozen dishes, Post made its first foray into plant-based foods last year. The company's Michael Foods division agreed to a distribution partnership with Just Egg in May, which brought the plant-based egg substitute to thousands of new restaurants and foodservice locations in the U.S.
This year, the consumer goods giant is linking up with plant-based meat upstart Hungry Planet for a similarly massive rollout across retailers and restaurants. The two companies, both headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, will distribute Hungry Planet's portfolio of vegan beef, chicken patties, and crab cakes to new outlets and look to integrate it into Post product lines like Bob Evans.
Fans of fast-casual chain Fatburger will soon see a lineup of vegetarian wings featuring Quorn's chicken alternative made from fungi. All 13 house-made sauces from Fatburger subsidiary Buffalo’s Express will be available for the new plant-based offering, dubbed "Chick’n Vings," which rolled across the U.S. in mid January.
Taco Bell took potatoes off the U.S. menu last year — and, to put it mildly, vegetarians were not pleased. But the chain reversed course in an — ahem — unique fashion, with an animated social media video starring CEO Mark King as a potato with a face (yes, we're serious). The Bell also plans to test launch its first plant-based meat option for the U.S. market this year, in partnership with Beyond Meat.
As restaurants closed their doors or drastically reduced capacity to slow the spread of the coronavirus, many were in search of new ways to utilize their kitchens and keep their businesses afloat. For fast-casual vegan eatery chain Veggie Grill, that means translating perennial Mexican takeout favorites into vegan alternatives.
The new menu is available for delivery only and will be cooked out of Veggie Grill kitchens across California, Oregon, Washington, New York, and Massachusetts starting this month. Menu offerings include shredded jackfruit chipotle carnitas, cauliflower asada and crispy poblano chickin' provided by partner Beyond Meat.
Celebrity chef Matthew Kenney made his career from plant-based foods. Since the early 1990s, he has authored 12 cookbooks, launched dozens of vegan restaurants and founded a vegan lifestyle brand, Matthew Kenney Cuisine. The brand runs restaurants, does catering, provides education about plant-based cooking and sells consumer products under a variety of labels — the most recent being Casse-Cou Chocolaterie, a line of artisanal chocolates.
The vegan chocolate label, developed in partnership with New York pastry chef Sebastian Brecht, started accepting online orders at the start of February, and it will open a storefront in New York City on Feb. 8.
Best known for Greek yogurt, Chobani has diversified its product portfolio a great deal in recent years. In 2021, customers can expect a lineup of four new ready-to-drink cold brew coffees, including two vegan options: a black and sugar-free version and a vegan oat milk blend.
Vegan brand Kite Hill relaunched its line of almond milk-based yogurts this month to make them more "true to dairy" in response to consumer feedback. With a thicker and creamier texture, the brand swears you won't miss the milk a bit. Flavors include vanilla, blueberry, strawberry and peach.
Vegan brand Vevan Foods made its retail debut at natural food chain Sprouts this month with a line developed by traditional artisan cheesemakers to closely mimic dairy in texture and taste. Its inaugural launch at all 300 U.S. Sprouts locations includes shredded and sliced cheddar, mozzarella, and pepper jack — all made from plants — as well a collection of snacking cheese cubes paired with dried fruit and roasted nuts. The brand, a subsidiary of Wisconsin-based dairy brand Shuman Cheese, initially rolled out to foodservice locations in February 2020.
U.K. vegan meat brand VBites will expand into Spinneys — a supermarket chain with locations across the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Lebanon, Oman and Pakistan — and Waitrose supermarkets in Dubai this year. Spinneys is also running a special promotion to highlight plant-based products through Feb. 14, with available brands including Beyond Meat, Meatless Farm, Quorn and Violife.
Meanwhile, UAE-based Halal brand Al Islami launched its first vegan burger in January, the first of several plant-based frozen food launches it's planning for 2021. The brand's heat of marketing says his team believes "the plant-based food trend is here to stay."
Featured image courtesy of Impossible Foods
Mary Mazzoni has reported on sustainability in business for over a decade and now serves as managing editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of brands and organizations on sustainability storytelling. Along with 3p, Mary's recent work can be found in publications like Conscious Company, Salon and Vice's Motherboard. She also works with nonprofits on media projects, including the women's entrepreneurship coaching organization Street Business School. She is an alumna of Temple University in Philadelphia and lives in the city with her partner and two spoiled dogs.