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Leon Kaye headshot

Six Things to Know About the Current State of the Plant-Based Protein Sector

Good Food Institute has long covered the plant-based protein industry in great depth; we've gleaned six big takeaways from its most recent set of reports.
By Leon Kaye
Plant-based protein

Plant-based protein companies keep rolling out new products, and food tech companies keep making what was once unpalatable actually possible to nosh on. The result is an industry still poised for growth, a trend the Good Food Institute reaffirmed with its recent series of new reports that covered this industry in great depth. As TriplePundit perused through the reports, here are six big stories that we gleaned from GFI’s copious amount of research.

Investment keeps moving along, big time

If anything, the amount of money plunged into plant-based protein companies shows that this market will not be going away any time soon. Last year, almost $2 billion was invested in companies making plant-based meat, egg and dairy alternatives. That amount in 2021 alone represents about 30 percent of all-time investments in plant-based protein products when going as far back as 1980.

Growth in sales of plant-based protein is steady

Last year in the U.S., GFI estimated that plant-based food sales grew 6.2 percent. That may seem like a tepid number at first glance, but considering supply chain snafus, inflation and the global pandemic, that is a rate in growth that many sectors would envy. Such growth is three times faster than the total amount of food sales at large. While the sales of plant-based meat alternatives held steady during 2021 compared to the previous year, milk alternatives grew 4 percent. As for plant-based egg substitutes, this small segment witnessed a huge surge in 2021, as in 42 percent over the previous year to $39 million in sales.  

The taste is getting there, and new technologies are sorting out the texture

True, these aren’t your veggie burgers of the early 2000s, and now that companies have been able to find that blend of pea protein, vegetable fibers, soy, heme, all of the above or none of the above, the next frontier will be the ability to mimic the texture of meat and other animal products. On that point, companies have been able to improve how they apply food technology. One way is through shear-cell technology, a process that creates a more fibrous and chewable texture through applying pressure to plant proteins through two rotating cylindrical plates. The other is by turning to 3D printing, which can result in recreating (gulp!) food products that are similar to the makeup of whole-muscle meat cuts.

Plant-based pork options are definitely now a thing

For several years, much of the focus on plant-based protein was on finding alternatives to beef and chicken, which makes sense considering the potential fiscal sweetener of landing a contract with a massive fast food chain or food service company. But across much of the world, the meat of choice is often pork for a bevy of reasons: cost, versatility, and its relative efficiency when it comes to raising and production. The outcome could result in a long-term market bonanza, and companies are starting to get it. Along with Impossible Foods, the brands that have recently rolled out plant-based alternatives to pork products include Field Roast, Wicked Kitchen, Hungry Planet, Horray Foods and Heura.

Price parity is on the horizon

As prices for plant-based protein shift to the point at which they will be more competitive with animal-based products, the possibility of greater market share becomes even more promising. Data from 2021 suggests such a trend is already underway, and dovetails at a time when the price of meat-based products has increased by more than 10 percent. The companies that have cut prices, or say they have plans to make such reductions, include Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat and OmniFoods.

It’s a market for big brands, and more multinationals want in

Amongst the 10 largest plant-based protein brands based on U.S. sales, some independent names stand out: Beyond Meat, Dr. Praeger’s, Impossible Foods and Tofurky. But large multinationals comprise the rest of the list, including U.S.-based Conagra (Gardein), Kellogg (Morningstar Farms) and Kraft Heinz (Boca); Maple Leaf Foods (Lightlife) of Canada and Monde Nissen (Quorn) of the Philippines round out the list. Watch for even more global players to jump into this sector, as more large companies are seeking some plant-based skin in the game with new product launches, a roster that includes Nestlé, PepsiCo, Tyson and Korea’s soy and tofu giant, Pulmuone.

Image credit: Milada Vigerova via Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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