Surging interest in plant-based foods like fake meat and dairy alternatives is “past being a fad” — even as global demand for meat increases, says an expert who will speak about retail food trends Monday in Edmonton.
“This is a consumer-led revolution to have a different balance in what we eat: to eat meat but less, to eat better, and to eat more plants in whatever form they may come,” said David Hughes, a retired professor of food marketing at Imperial College London.
There is an increasing demand for meat alternatives and plant protein products made from stuff like peas and pulses, especially among younger consumers, he said.
That growing popularity is mostly due to a significant improvement in the taste, and because they are perceived to be healthy and more environmentally friendly. Consumers are also becoming increasingly concerned about how and where their food is produced, he added.
“Certainly in the higher-income world, young people are concerned about what’s going on, and plant-based foods are seen as having a somewhat softer tread on the environment,” said Hughes.
It’s not a niche category, as Hughes pointed out that most major fast food outlets put out a plant-based burger in 2019.
“Don’t tell me that’s for the over-educated urban elite.”
The production of some plant-based “meat” uses up to 99-per-cent less water, up to 95-per-cent less land, generates up to 90-per-cent fewer harmful emissions than regular beef burgers, and consumes nearly half the energy, according to research cited by the UN environment program.
Although purchasing trends vary “enormously” from country to country, consumers are changing their buying behaviour based on environmental concerns, including the sustainability of packaging.
That means producers need tell better stories about where and how they produce food, and should think about taking extra steps to process and add value to their products, Hughes said.
Shifting trends, including the growing popularity of convenient snack foods, mean there are also opportunities for some producers, Hughes said.
While dairy milk consumption is declining, putting the entire dairy industry under pressure, there is a growing interest in products like butter and yogurt.
And even though the consumption of meat — particularly red meat — is static or declining in most higher-income countries, demand for meat is growing in emerging economies.
The African swine flu crisis, for example, could create huge export opportunities for Canadian pork producers.
And Canadian producers have a global head start in cannabis food products like CBD-infused foods that could soon become commonplace, Hughes said.
“It will spread like wildfire.”
Hughes is speaking at the Plant Protein Alliance of Alberta event at 4 p.m. Monday. General admission is $35.