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Evidence continues to show an increasing market penetration of plant-based alternatives across both meat and dairy categories. According to Nielsen research, plant-based food sales (in dollar terms) in the U.S. increased by 20% over 2017-2018, and there are similar signs throughout the industry. From what we’re seeing here, in Australia, this is our take on the top 5 trends.

Dairy alternatives

The market for dairy substitutes is booming and is expected to reach $30 billion in the U.S. by 2023. Increasing cases of lactose intolerance and the perceived health benefits of plant-based milks have contributed to the increase in consumption, but Mintel has also found a taste preference among consumers. Perhaps it’s indicative of a maturity in the cultural palate, and following on from that, New Zealand’s food processors have been looking beyond the more traditional soy and almond options to pea proteins and chia seeds for ways to expand the non-dairy category.

We’ve covered dairy alternatives in recent weeks on this website and we’ve seen an increase in demand for assistance in this category, which is why we’ve put it at the top, and with a vegan Magnum already on the shelves, we’ll see more coming soon.

Flexitarianism

It’s becoming more common to be eating vegetarian through the week and saving meat for the weekends. There are several reasons for the change in diet. Health is the primary one, but increasing concerns for animal welfare and the environment, and the high cost of meat, are all significant factors. Foodservice operators have been leading the way for some time, responding to demands from the Millennial demographic for more vegetarian options and high-protein vegetable ingredients. The major retailers in Australia have caught onto the shift in consumer attitudes and are driving up the country’s growth rate in packaged vegan foods. Just go into any major supermarket and see the gradual expansion of their vegan ranges for yourself.

Plant-based and cultured meats

When you think of Nestle, you probably think of cereal and chocolate milk, but the brand of your childhood is putting serious focus onto meat alternatives. Although research and development in this category is growing, consumer sentiment is not too enthusiastic, yet. It’ll be interesting to see if the shelf-placement of plant-based minces and burgers coloured with beetroot, alongside their traditional beef and lamb counterparts, improves uptake. Even though the consumer demand isn’t leading the way in meat alternatives, unlike the non-dairy category, there’s enough experimentation and R&D funding going on here to be compelling.

Kombucha & kefir

Kombucha, the fermented tea with a bit of caffeine and sometimes fruit juice, has gone mainstream with an increasing focus on digestive wellness. The slightly vinegary, probiotic drink has traditional beverage makers nervous and looking for ways to bring back consumers who are moving away from sugary drinks. Kefir, on the other hand, is a milkier drink, fermented from a yeast starter of mashed kefir grains and is attracting those seeking improved immunity and weight loss.

With kombucha entering the mass market, it’s a challenge to hang onto it’s healthier properties as the normally, locally-sold organic product becomes unstable and sour at scale, requiring the kind of production efficiencies that strip out nutritional value. Kefir producers may find the same complications, as uptake grows.

Edible cannabis – honourable mention

Hot on the heels of cultured meats are cannabis edibles, and the U.S. has approved cannabis for use in some beverages and chocolates. This will become a complex product portfolio for manufacturers as they navigate regulations around the production and sale of classes of cannabis, and address the public health and safety concerns. Anyone working in product strategy for edibles will need to consider the potential for unintended consequences and the reputational damage thereafter.

Legal manufacture of edibles is unlikely to happen here in Australia, anytime soon, so an honourable mention it is.