Plant-Based Food and Drinks Are Scaling the Food Chain

Jun 15, 2016

Ripple is a new pea-protein milk retailing at select Whole Foods outlets nationwide and at Target stores this summer. The company says the product has the “creamy and smooth flavor that makes milk gratifying.” Most importantly, Ripple provides the same 8 g of protein per serving as dairy milk. Photo from Ripple.



Move over, North American Meat Institute. Step aside, U.S. Poultry & Egg Association. And International Dairy Foods Association? You might wanna, ya know, make a little room there. Because there’s a new trade group in town, one whose corner of the market is going through one heck of a growth spurt.

The Plant-Based Foods Association (PBFA; San Francisco) went live on March 7 as the first organization to represent, promote, and advocate for this flourishing food and drinks sector. “Every other sector of the food industry—from sugar to organics—is represented in the policy arena,” said Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant-Based Foods Association, in a press release announcing the group’s arrival. “The time has come for the plant-based food industry to also have a collective voice.”

PBFA aims to raise awareness among consumers, retailers, and food-service professionals about the health benefits of plant-based foods. In addition, the association will “work on policies to ensure that plant-based foods are not at an economic disadvantage when compared to their animal-based counterparts,” as is the case with “outdated” food-labeling laws favoring the animal foods industry that don’t work in plant foods’ favor, Simon told Nutritional Outlook. “For example,” she said, “a company that makes a nut-based cheese faces challenges in how to label that food in a way that consumers can easily understand.”

The time for taking a united stand doesn’t come soon enough, because all signs point to more growth for plant-based foods. Notes Kaitlin Barton, director of communications and marketing for PBFA member Califia Farms (Bakersfield, CA), “The increasing awareness that a plant-based diet is the only truly sustainable option for the future of our planet gives plant-based foods and beverages a natural opportunity.” Couple that with the vogue for eating all things healthful, she says, “and you can see why plant-based foods and beverages are gaining such significant traction.”


Planting the Seed

That traction, according to newly released research from SPINS, the Chicago-based information provider for the natural- and specialty-products industry, clocks in at a robust $3.5 billion in total-market sales (excluding Whole Foods data). That represents more than 8.7% growth over the past two years, whereas same-period growth for the general food and beverage sector topped out at just over 3.7%.

Just as important as these impressive sales numbers, though, are the factors underlying them. Per Megan Cleveland, QA/R&D manager, Crunchies Natural Food Company (Westlake Village, CA), consumers are migrating plant-ward for reasons as distinctive as those consumers themselves.

Nutrition frequently tops their lists, she says, as “research on the effects of foods on our health increasingly points to the advantages of a healthy diet dominated by antioxidant- and nutrient-packed fruits and vegetables.” August bodies ranging from the American Heart Association to the United Nations have come to a similar conclusion, all acknowledging the benefits of plant-based diets both for individuals and for the environment.

And, adds Monica Klausner, cofounder and CMO, Veestro (Newbury Park, CA), a gourmet plant-based meal-delivery service, that environmental dividend “makes it easier” for contemporary consumers attuned to such issues “to take part in this movement.” Also, because being plant-based “has a clean and healthy feel,” Klausner says, “it conveys a ‘going back to nature’ attitude that people are embracing again.”

This embrace isn’t all high-minded altruism, of course. The search for convenience, value, and an honest snack all play in plant products’ favor. As Paul Albrecht, vice president, Simply 7 Snacks (Houston), says, “Consumers are looking for easy ways to incorporate more organic foods into their diets at an affordable price, and they’re looking for quick, grab-and-go foods that are minimally processed.” Plant-based products fit that bill.

And if nothing else, says PBFA’s Simon, “We hear from consumers who just like the taste. That’s the best reason of all, because appealing flavors are what will keep them coming back.”