Mo Iftikhar and Amanda Chen, Interns at We Grow Green Tech
Consumers are reducing their consumption of animal-derived foods because of concerns about their effects on their health, and the environment. The rising demand for 100% plant-based food across all geographical regions worldwide has driven a significant increase in new product development from both established market players and disruptor companies.
We Grow Green Tech is a B-tier corporation, meaning it is a combination of a for-profit and a social organization. I (Mo) had the pleasure of working as a business researcher and analyst for WGGT. The highlights of my role were to establish a list of companies working in the plant-based food industry. This includes venture capitalist companies; groups of investors willing to help and invest in small businesses, fuelling the trend in plant-based foods and ingredients. I was able to find companies willing to invest like Cargill and Eat beyond, which manufactures and markets food, agricultural products, and financial, industrial items & services around the world. They also provide early-stage start-up capital and guidance to companies striving to replace the use of animals respectively (Choi, 2020). Most of these companies are supported and established by celebrities, business tycoons, and CEOs of large corporations.
Is There a Universal Definition Encompassing Plant-Based Foods? Do Plant-based Foods Constitute Veganism?
There is no universal definition of the term “plant-based”. We need to do our best to celebrate the founders of this way of eating, and those who knowledgeably lead it today. And we should also listen to common sense. More on that below (Choi, 2020).
A plant-based diet is not veganism, and a plant-based diet is not vegetarian. This diet has a long history of its own as a way of eating around the world, entrenched; much longer than some of the actual “fad” diets you’ll find out there today (Choi, 2020). For many, perhaps most, in following this way of eating, plant-based is not a “fad” or “propaganda”. It just means eating plants to sustain one’s health, and life itself.
Definition of a Plant-Based Diet:
A plant-based diet primarily constitutes vegetables and fruit, as well as grains, tubers, seeds, nuts, lentils, and legumes that are predominately whole and unprocessed. The diet doesn’t include any animal products/proteins, such as meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs, or honey and is commonly consumed for its health benefits or for environmental concerns. Plant-based diets are not based on ethics or any philosophical beliefs (Choi, 2020).
Plant-based eating is the second-most discussed diet in the U.S. today, according to a recent report from Tastewise, rapidly growing in popularity (Tastewise, 2020).
Details around Growing Trends in Plant-Based Eating:
The conversation is shifting towards more flexible, health-oriented motivations. For many consumers, “vegan” feels binding while “plant-based” provides a similar diet with fewer restrictions (Tastewise, 2020).
Restaurants are increasingly aware of this significance and 83% more restaurants have added plant-based dishes over the last year. Thirty-eight percent more restaurants serve dairy alternatives than meat, but the two categories create the same buzz in restaurant conversations among consumers and plant-based meat is rising faster in overall consumer popularity (Choi, 2020).
Due to this growing trend, venture investors more than doubled their bets on alternative protein makers in the year 2020, raising more than $1 billion for Start-ups that focus on alternative proteins (Chasan, Bloomberg, 2020).
More than 20 start-ups selling meat imitations raised about $1.4 billion from venture investors in the first seven months of 2020, according to a report from the London-based investor network Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (Chasan, Bloomberg, 2020). Venture investments in plant-based meat and dairy alternatives rose to $1.1 billion, up from $457 million in 2019, while investments in companies that perpetuate lab-grown meat more than tripled to $290 million from $75 million last year (Chasan, Bloomberg, 2020).
Investors range from companies such as Cargill and General Mills to pension funds, traditional venture capital firms, and celebrities including Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey. The biggest funding deals of the year (2020) included Impossible Foods Inc., which raised $500 million to support the expansion of its vegan burgers, and Swedish oat milk maker Oatly AB, which raised $200 million this month in a deal backed by Blackstone Group Inc. that values the company at $2 billion (Chasan, Bloomberg, 2020).
Smaller companies are also gaining attention from investors such as Memphis Meats, culturing meat alternatives, and Nature’s Fynd, developing alternative proteins inspired by volcanic microbes discovered in Yellowstone National Park.
During the pandemic, meat imitations businesses have been doing particularly well amid concerns about meat processing and COVID-19. Plant-based meat purchases rose 264% in 2020 (Nickelsburg, 2020). For plant-based meat startup Rebellyous Foods, the pandemic meant pivoting from targeting the food service industry to a consumer product it could sell at grocery stores (Nickelsburg, 2020).
The Seattle-based maker of plant-based chicken previously distributed its products at cafeterias, schools, and other institutions. After those institutions began shutting down indefinitely, the company accelerated the development of a new product that is now available at fourteen mom-and-pop markets throughout the Seattle area (Nickelsburg, 2020).
Emerging Plant-based Food Trends by Amanda:
A chickpea is a type of legume, used to make chickpea flour, chickpea cereal, chickpea crusts, and more; all of which are easily accessible in every grocery store. They can also be used in hummus and are added to a variety of common recipes. Rich in fiber and protein, they are also a nutritious alternative for those who are transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle while looking to also maintain nutrition in their diet.
Jackfruit is becoming a popular alternative to meat, often used as an alternative to pulled pork and tuna when cooked, due to its similar texture. Although it might not be a substitute for animal meat, it can still be used quite extensively, such as for barbeque meat, or as a filler for tacos, wraps, nachos, burritos, and pot pies. Jackfruit is now touted as a superfood, packed with nutritional elements such as Vitamin C and Vitamin B6. It is also very affordable and can be bought in almost all supermarkets across the United States.
Vegan Eggs & Dairy (Cheese, Milk, Butter/Nut Butter):
Plant-based egg and dairy alternatives are becoming extremely popular in recent years. Oatly, mentioned previously, has increased their revenues by 210% in 2020 due to rising popularity. Their buyer persona consists of consumers who are lactose-intolerant, vegan, dairy allergies, or people who are following the recent trends established, regarding plant-based diets. Plant-based milk such as oat milk, almond milk, and coconut milk, as well as plant-based cheese and butter, are now very accessible in supermarkets and affordable. In fact, many coffee shops may actually be at a disadvantage if they don’t offer plant-based milk options due to a rising demand in sustainable eating.
Cocoa is inherently a plant-based food, as it is made from cocoa beans, which makes vegan chocolate a much more natural and real alternative to your regular dairy chocolate. They can be found in stores like Whole Foods, yet some brands still verge on the pricier end.
Sometimes, the reason why people are hesitant to transition to a plant-based lifestyle is due to a lack of accessibility or the perception that vegan food is more difficult to make delicious. But don’t be fooled — convenience meals such as frozen meals at the grocery store (i.e. Amy’s, Trader Joe’s Frozen Food), or subscription plans such as HelloFresh have easy and delicious meals that are quick, and easy to prepare.
Photo Sources for Plant-Based Food (Amanda):
References from Mo