New plant-based food and beverage product introductions are expected to increase 10% to 20% annually through 2024, according to the Specialty Food Association.1 For product developers, the plant-based category represents multiple opportunities for innovation, from creating more flavorful and visually appealing plant-based snack products, to achieving the right balance of taste, texture and nutrition in beverages.
Sales for plant-based foods and beverages have also surged during the pandemic, as consumers look for ways to improve their health and strengthen their immune system. According to data from the Plant Based Foods Association, plant-based food sales were up 90% compared to the previous year during the panic-buying surge in mid-March 2020, and remained elevated over the following four weeks, rising 35% faster than total retail food.2
As the category expands, consumers’ plant-based preferences will continue to evolve and desire for more premium and elevated plant-based options will continue to grow. Here are three factors shaping consumer perceptions and preferences in plant-based foods.
1. Flexitarian diets
The percentage of consumers following a strictly vegetarian or vegan diet remains relatively small, but more consumers are experimenting with a flexitarian lifestyle, striving to incorporate more plant-based sources of nutrition into their diet. In fact, 90% of plant-based buyers are neither vegetarian nor vegan, but simply looking for new ways to add healthy variety to their diet, according to a survey by the NPD Group.3
By adding plant-based ingredients to existing product lines, or creating plant-based alternatives, product developers can capture interest from consumers who are experimenting with a flexitarian diet or attempting to make a healthy lifestyle change.
2. Alternate sources of protein
Many consumers are looking for alternate sources of protein to support a healthy, balanced diet. Approximately 70% of consumers consider plant-based foods to be the healthiest source of protein, and nearly a third of consumers are striving to eat more plant-based protein, according to a survey from the International Food Information Council.4
These trends are driving renewed interest in pulses – including chickpeas, beans, lentils and other legumes – which are naturally high in protein and other essential nutrients like fiber. Pulses add texture, taste, color and functional benefits to a variety of applications, including beverages, snacks, meals and confectionery. Whole Foods recently named chickpeas as one of the top food ingredient trends for 2021, due to continued strong demand for healthier snack options.5
Confectionery brands are responding to these trends by incorporating more natural plant-based ingredients into their formulations. The number of new chocolate, ice cream and confectionery products making a plant-based claim increased 55% annually from 2015 through 2019, according to Innova Market Insights.4
3. Elevated plant-based recipes
Across all food and beverage categories, consumers continue to look for elevated and premium snacking experiences. They want new flavors, enjoy interesting varieties in texture, and are drawn to products that are visually appealing. The same holds true for new plant-based introductions. According to a survey from the Good Food Institute, taste is most likely to drive purchase intent for plant-based foods and beverages – ranking above nutrition or sustainability-related concerns.6
This means that product developers should prioritize taste above all else in their plant-based formulations. Freeze-dried fruit, vegetables and pulses are aligned with the trend toward healthier and all-natural ingredients and can help product developers deliver more appealing plant-based products.
Unlike other drying methods, the freeze-drying process preserves the shape, color and flavor of fruit and vegetables, as well as key nutrients. When used as an ingredient, inclusion, or topping, freeze-dried ingredients add authentic nutrition, crisp melt-in-the mouth texture, and natural colors and flavors to a range of food and drink applications, including beverages, snacks and savory meals.
Chaucer offers a range of versatile freeze-dried fruits, vegetables and pulses, ideal for plant-based beverages, snacks and meals. Choose from protein-packed chickpea, versatile black bean, vibrant green peas, flavorful sweet corn, and more.
- “Specialty Food Association names top 2021 trends,” Food Business News. October 2020.
- “Consumer Perception Drives Interest In Plant-Based Eating,” The Food Institute. June 2020
- “Plant-based Foods: Will They Stay or Will They Go?” The NPD Group. October 2019.
- 2020 Food & Health Survey, International Food Information Council. 2020.
- “Whole Foods reveals top 10 food trends for 2021,” Food Navigator-USA. October 2020.
- “Key findings from a Mindlab study into implicit perceptions of the plant-based category,” TheGood Food Institute. October 2019.