Plant Based World Expo Europe, the largest 100% plant-based trade event in Europe, has marked what it calls the beginning of ‘Plant Based 2.0’.

The global plant-based food & beverages market will be valued at $94.2bn in 2023 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.2% over 2023-2027.

With 43% of Gen Z claiming to be cutting meat from their diet in 2023, and 16% already have, a massive 59% of this generation could be meat-free by the end of the year.

To meet this demand, the plant-based retail sector continues to innovate with new alternative proteins and textures. From retail to public sector, high street to hospitals, plant-based options are becoming more readily available.

Meeting demands of high value plant-based retail customers

Plant-based food and beverages offer a cruelty-free alternative to meat-based diets and can provide a way for consumers to align their food choices with their ethical values.

While it’s broadly understood shoppers purchasing plant-based products spend 61% more than the average shopper, retailers need to provide quality plant-based products and a broader scope of choice for these valuable customers to maximise basket size.

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At the start of the boom, companies in the space were innovating cross-category, with ice-cream, yoghurt and cheese in addition to milk. However, the industry is evolving, and a combination of pressure to create quality products and a shift towards new business strategies focused on longer-term profitability means while brands previously diversified, now they are turning their focus to back to core ranges.

The onus will be on supermarkets to get the balance right, and ensure they have a wide enough selection of quality plant-based products to keep high value customers coming back.

In foodservice, while catering to the needs and demands of the public, choice is taking centre stage and more restaurants are harnessing the power of plant-based.

While it’s no longer an option to have just one plant-based item on the menu, entire vegan menus are now dedicated to those making choices based on planetary and human health. Offering plant-based options can not only differentiate a restaurant from its competitors, but ensure its offerings suit customers’ values.

In response to the cost-of-living crisis, in the UK, Plant-Based Expo predicts that there will also be a shift to more affordable plant proteins.

Pushing for consumer awareness

While the argument against over-processed foods continues, producers are evolving and many are now making quality, nutritious products for those who turn to them for convenience and affordability. Clean labelling will continue to gain momentum as consumers prioritise flavour and health.

Not only do ingredient decks need to be cleaner, manufacturers must focus on transparency by highlighting which plant-based proteins are used. The public will start to understand new foods and proteins from sources beyond the usual meat and soya. To help meet the demands of the clean label-conscious consumer, manufacturers have also ramped up production of natural vegetable flavours using non-GMO approaches.

The Plant Based Universities campaign is active in more than 50 universities and is gaining momentum. More universities and education settings are acting on their own climate research to both limit the public sector’s contribution to the climate and ecological emergency, and to help shift public opinion in favour of a plant-based food system.

While Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “This country is proud to be a world leader in reaching Net Zero by 2050,” The National Food Strategy recommended in 2022 a 30% reduction in meat consumption – which Plant Based Expo feels is a very conservative approach.

The plant-based industry holds that not enough is being done by the government to reduce subsidies to the meat and dairy industries or invest in plant-based alternatives.

However, vegan food manufacturers are adapting to changing times, strategies are evolving and manufacturers are leveraging economies of scale. While initial hypergrowth slows, the culture shift is evident from the availability of plant-based choices both in the public sector and on the high street.

Plant Based World Expo Europe, now in its third year, will take place at Excel London on 15-16 November 2023.