Pandemic Propels Plant-Based Market | The Garage Group

Pandemic Propels Plant-Based Market

Pre-pandemic, plant-based everything was the hottest trend in food & beverage, and a panoply of brand launches in this space was expected during the (canceled) 2020 Natural Products Expo West. Along with increasing consumer beliefs that plant-based foods are healthier for them and the planet, brands are racing to deliver solutions across meal occasions.

As the pandemic drives dramatic shifts in consumer behavior, we’ve been uncovering and reporting on emerging trends and opportunity areas.  Some pre-existing trends, like plant-based foods, are becoming more prevalent. Consumers are increasingly emphasizing their own long-term health, looking for more proactive ways to keep it in check, and are even more worried about the health of the planet as a whole, even despite evidence of cleaner air and water as shelter-in-place has reduced pollutants.

Within the plant-based meat trend space, a few new themes are emerging; (1) forced choice of plant-based offerings caused consumers to try these options for the first time, and (2) magnified consumer concern over animal meat safety due to reports of virus spread within processing plants. 

Forced Choice of Plant-Based Offerings

With initial hoarding trends and now a meat shortage crisis, consumers are being forced to purchase plant-based meat offerings (something they might not have entertained pre-pandemic) in order to get any kind of protein into their diet. As these products become more widely available, barriers to trial are removed at the same time that consumers are more open to try plant-based offerings in multiple settings. 

“These two factors — spot shortages of animal products in stores and a growing awareness of the problems with our animal agriculture system — are likely driving an increase in retail sales of plant-based meat products during the pandemic. According to a recent Nielsen report, demand for these products has increased 278 percent since this time last year.” –Vox Article

Increasing Concern over Meat Safety

As the working conditions at many traditional meat processing plants make it very difficult for workers to social distance, there has been a large uptick in the amount of coronavirus spread taking place within these plants. Consumers are more concerned than ever about the safety of the animal meat options they are choosing to purchase and consume. The coronavirus has elevated consumer awareness of viruses, in general, turning the attention of some to potential viruses in the meat and poultry they consume, whether real or perceived.

“Meat plant workers work shoulder to shoulder at a fast pace in poor conditions with little automation. Plant based meats are a lot easier to automate and they treat the workers better.” -Reddit User

Consumers are vocal online about these issues: concern for the cleanliness of meat processing plants and health of the workers; and, real shortages forcing consumers into options they wouldn’t normally choose. 

“Then I walked through the meat aisle. There was still plenty of beef and chicken to be had — but given that a live-animal market in China may have given rise to Covid-19 and that the giant factory farms that supply 99 percent of America’s meat are a pandemic risk too, meat just seemed very unappealing in that moment. Instead, I grabbed a package of Beyond Meat and went home.” -Vox Writer

Logically, we predict that the plant-based meat trend will continue, creating huge opportunities for brands —especially in food, beverage, and QSR—to innovate. One early adopter is Starbucks, which partnered with emerging brands Omnipork, Oatly, and BEYOND BEEF® to create a plant-based menu for its stores in China, its largest market. Launched in late April, the new GOOD GOOD menu is offered in all 3000+ Starbucks outlets in China.

How might brands adapt to changing consumer preferences when it comes to meat and protein options?  How might brands seize the opportunity created by increased consumer trial of plant-based meat? How might brands further support an emerging trend and consumer preference for plant-based meat?
Below are examples of brands that already existed and were taking hold of this trend, along with companies that are rapidly pivoting amidst this pandemic to serve consumers in this way.

Abby’s Better: This woman-owned business was founded by a teenaged health advocate and is built on the quintette pillars of Plant-Based, Vegan, Non-GMO, Peanut-Free, and Clean Label. Adding to their core lineup of nut butters, the brand’s planned Expo West launches are 4 flavors each of Plant Based Protein Infused Nut Butters and Nut Butter Bites. These new offerings address current consumer desires for protein, snacking, and convenience along with plant-based nutrition. And, for any WFH parents now who may also be unexpectedly home-schooling, you may take inspiration in learning that founder Abby was homeschooled herself.

Jack & Bry is a UK brand transforming jackfruit into meat alternatives in forms and tastes that consumers love. Their Pepperoni, Bacon, and Beef Crumble offerings can be found on pizzas in restaurants and bars. They are coming to the US and were planned exhibitors at Expo West.
34 Degrees is the latitude of Sydney, Australia whose local crispbread inspired the brand’s founder to begin his own natural food company. In April, their newest launch, Snaps, will come to market. Made with steamed chickpea flour, the snacks – in 3 flavors –  stand alone and also serve as foundations for dips, cheeses, and meats. 
Upton’s Naturals was first to market with pre-flavored meat alternatives made from jackfruit. The Chicago natural food brand has taken on the frankfurter with its vegan UpDog. Made from seitan – hydrated gluten – each dog will pack 19g of protein. 
Urban Accents is on the verge of bringing its Meatless Mixes to market and reached out to consumers post-event cancellation via #virtualexpowest. The plant-powered mixes will be available in 3 globally-inspired flavors and offer soy-based protein and convenience which are in line with current consumer needs.
Moocho is a sibling brand of Tofurky and will have its dairy-free Shreds and Spreads in stores and food service establishments this summer. The makers are passionate about kindness to the planet and all those dwell upon it.
MELT Organic touts its plant-based, non-dairy products as “still butter & cheese. Just from a different source. Plants!” A new introduction launched via #virtualexpowest are their high protein spreads made from chickpeas – Mozzarella Garlic Herb and Spicy Queso.
OZO™ is the first plant-based protein brand that Colorado startup Planterra Foods is bringing to market in 2020. Passionate about sustainable food sources and a healthy planet, their alt meat product portfolio consists of Italian Style Meatballs, Seasoned Seasoned and Ground proteins, and Burger Patties.
Ohi Food Co. began in Maui and has moved to California with its innovative and clean Superfood Bars. Fulfilling consumer desires for fresh foods along with perceptions that refrigerated equates to that, the brand is growing rapidly and expanding nationwide.
Bolthouse Farms had enlisted Los Angeles-based artist TYP to transform a blank wall into a mixed-media work over the course of Expo West and which would be representative of the company’s vision, “Plants Powering People.” They are introducing two new additions – BOLTS shots of juice with functional benefits, and ready-to-drink Protein Keto beverages with 15 g of plant-based protein per bottle. 


Explore More