Scott Barnett & Associates Blog
Flexitarians on the Rise:
Plant-Based Foods & Sustainability

March 15, 2022
Because of Covid, I have had the time to study a number of things that I simply could have ignored - at least for a while. In the past couple of years, I have learned quite a bit about ghost kitchens, enhanced delivery and the importance of food that "travels well." I have also seen the labor shortage balloon into something bigger than I have ever seen or thought possible.
But what has fascinated me the most in the last couple of years is the clear movement to the marketing, consumption and processing of plant-based sustainable foods.
Let's be clear - I am not a vegan nor have I ever considered becoming one. I do, however, eat and live in as healthy a manner as possible. Consequently, I started looking at the market for plant-based products and what I learned was stunning.
Where Is the Plant-Based Market Headed?
Apparently to the moon.
Here is what I have observed in the plant-based market:

1. The plant-based food market has gotten big and is expected to get larger at an almost 20% compound annual growth rate. Hospitality (hotels, restaurants, etc.) has been the primary mover in this growth. It accounts for more than half the increase and that trend should continue.

2. Plant-based products have become more diverse. For years, soy has been the primary source of plant-based protein but that is changing. There are substantial problems with allergens. Additionally, there are serious, though as yet unproven, concerns about soy's effect on people's health. As a result, in the last several years we have seen almond milk, then oat milk in coffee shops. But the most dramatic change has been the move toward pea protein with its gluten-free and lactose-free properties.

3. The plant-based food market is generational. The propensity to consume plant-based is high at all ages but the curve goes parabolic among Millennials and Gen Z. In basic terms, it is and will be a big part of people's eating habits.
So, Are We All Going Vegan?
Nope. But maybe flexitarian.
What it does mean is that we are probably looking at the early stages of something called flexitarians. That is a group that eats more vegetarian than what is currently "normal" but retains the inclination to eat meat, seafood and other traditional proteins.

If you consider your own reality, more than 50% of people who don't consider themselves vegetarians are actually flexitarians. You might be in that group. Prefer to eat a salad at lunch? Like to snack on chips and salsa or carrot and hummus? The person looking back at you in the mirror may in fact be a flexitarian.

A key facet of flexitarianism is that there's more fluidity in the label. Rather than calling yourself a vegetarian or vegan for never eating meat or animal products, flexitarians aren't defined by a rigid either/or question.
Flexitarians are people who eat a largely plant-based diet and occasionally animal products. Flexitarians are on the rise - with as much as 50% of the public being flexitarian - and that number appears to be growing.
What About Plant-Based Products & Sustainability?
Plant-based meat production has a smaller carbon footprint than conventional meat, and the industry is well-served in maintaining other sustainability best practices.
Many companies have entered the plant-based market and are significant players in the business. Beyond and Impossible immediately come to mind but big players like Conagra are not far behind. Literally tens of billions of dollars has been raised from venture capital to public offerings in pursuit of the burgeoning market.

Something else that is becoming important to restaurants is "clean label." Clean label simply means that the ingredients are natural, easy to recognize and there aren't many of them in the product. This has become a problem in the plant-based world because, typically, many things have to go into the raw product to enhance the taste profile.

Finally, there is the issue of sustainability. This can take on many forms. For example, what is the carbon footprint of the process? Is it energy-intensive? Does it have to travel far? What is the waste involved? What is the growing process?

All of those questions become important and not just to consumers. As companies have come to realize their responsibility in sustainability efforts, they have become more cognizant of the processes involved in making and distributing plant-based products and how this relates to sustainability.

Full disclosure, I am a shareholder and board member of a company called Divine Roots, based in Irvine, California. I joined it because I believe they have addressed the issues and possibilities that I have outlined above. Moreover, they have left a large part of the taste profile to the people who really count - the chefs and restaurateurs who know their customer best.

As I said, I have learned a lot about the future of plant-based products and the cultural movement towards flexitarianism is exciting.
Learn more about how flexitarians are on the rise, the growing plant-based market and how this affects the restaurant industry by reaching out to me today.
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