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Key consumer motivations driving growth in plant-based foods

Key consumer motivations driving growth in plant-based foods
(Image credit: Unsplash)

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One of the most dynamic areas of growth in foods and beverages in the past several years has been in the realm of plant-based products. Consumer interest in plant-focused products and diets is high—whether it’s for one meal, one month or frames a long-term approach to eating.

One of the big myths is that vegetarians and vegans are the driving demand for plant-based food and beverage products. According to The Hartman Group’s Health & Wellness 2021: Reimagining Well-being Amid COVID-19 report, the reality is that interest in a plant-based approach is not just the domain of vegetarians and vegans. Consumers, in general, are drawn to a plant-based approach to eating primarily because it aligns with key ideas in modern health & wellness.

Plant-based, either as an eating approach or a product attribute, can appeal to consumers’ desires to make healthier choices as well as their modern wellness sensibilities on several counts:

  • As consumers reduce their consumption of animal products, plant-based alternatives are increasingly easy swap-ins for dairy and meat
  • Consumers looking to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables turn to plant-based food and beverage for positive nutrition.
  • Plant-based reflects ideals around a balanced approach to eating that incorporates variety but also leaves room for play and discovery.

Our Health & Wellness 2021: Reimagining Well-being Amid COVID-19 report also finds that: 

  • 48% of consumers look for products labeled “plant-based” (describes me well or somewhat well)
  • 31% seek out plant-based proteins in their diet
  • 34% of consumers are moderating intake of animal products in some way with their “typical” eating approaches (eliminating or reducing animal protein or excluding specific types)
  • 18% of consumers have tried a specific diet aimed at reducing meat (vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian) in the past year
  • 15% of purchasers of meat alternative products describe themselves as vegan or vegetarian

Three key trends in plant-based foods

Three key trends have emerged as areas that can signal an enhanced degree of quality and healthfulness that consumers are seeking in plant-based products:

Simple Processing. While animal products are well understood, newer manufacturing methods used in some plant-based foods can seem overly scientific and off-putting to consumers and out of sync with their general desire for foods that seem fresher and less processed. Instead, those products that include straightforward ingredients and processing methods resonate with these values.

Positive Nutrition. Products can stand out through not only fortification with sought-after nutrients but even more so when they feature whole food ingredients that offer inherent nutritional benefits.

Sustainable Sourcing. A commitment to social and environmental sustainability in production and agricultural practices not only speaks to engaged consumers but also enables a cohesive and compelling product and brand narrative. Regenerative practices are also high on consumers’ radars.

As the plant-based marketplace grows to reach a wider audience, with interest from omnivores, flexitarians and vegetarians alike, there is still room to innovate around consumer aspirations for less processed, plant rich foods. To future-proof in this dynamic marketplace, companies must be mindful of both flavor profiles and ingredient panels to continue to meet the needs of engaged consumers. 

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As CEO The Hartman Group, Demeritt drives the vision, strategy, operations and results-oriented culture for the company’s associates as The Hartman Group furthers its offerings of tactical thinking, consumer and market intelligence, cultural competency and innovative intellectual capital to a global marketplace.


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