Nifty fifty

It has been enlightening to witness the evolution of the plant-based sector across recent years.

Plant-based meats, eggs, and dairy have grabbed media attention and market share. Protein is being remade not just by technological advancements but also by consumer trends. A growing world’s population, in number and affluence, means greater demand for protein-rich foods and drinks. At the same time, consumers’ concerns about personal health and environmental sustainability are combining with an openness to try animal-free options — and even repeat buy for quite a few. Such factors have led to an explosion of companies interested in the alternative proteins/the plant-based world.

A visit to Kerry’s HQ in Naas, Ireland, laid bare the scale of opportunity for the food and drink industry’s players. And, it was highlighted by this food business with good reason. Kerry is celebrating its 50th anniversary in June so this number has plenty of significance.

Convenience has been the biggest driver of food innovation in the last 50 years, Ed Scanlon, the group’s chief executive told assembled guests. However, alternative proteins are going to be the biggest driver for the next 50, Scanlon stated.

Over the course of a day, we learned of the necessary production capabilities to capture this market opportunity, and where the food and drink industry can focus its efforts.
In response to market forces and consumer concerns, Kerry is helping industry leaders roll out a range of products and ingredients using different plant-based proteins, exploring new sources, and technological innovations. In fact, Kerry’s extensive research demonstrates how industry professionals can capture the opportunity by understanding the evolving market’s dynamics and where to place their bets.

For CPG companies and food manufacturers to win market share in this fast-growing segment, Kerry’s insights highlight where they can invest in the capabilities required to develop and manufacture the most promising alternative-protein products.

Food and drink manufacturers around the world have taken note and are increasingly looking for support to develop these new ways of making alternatives. Yet, greater concern for animals or the environment isn’t the biggest driver of change. When it comes to more often, improved taste is key, according to another of Kerry’s tools — behavioural research to measure consumer purchasing habits,

I will cover more of Kerry’s insights in separate blogs and features, but what does all this mean for industry? In the short- to- medium-term, alternative and conventional proteins can both grow in an expanding market. But alternative proteins have momentum and are likely to capture more investment. What needs to follow is consistent consumer spending.

Plant-based is here to stay, although it’s early days for this sector. It will command more shelf space and market share — it just depends where. Are there still plenty of categories where consumers are seeking more varied plant-based options?

Brands can succeed by launching products that taste great and are priced competitively.
Whether they will still need to replicate the taste and texture of meat, time will tell. Currently unfamiliar protein sources like mycoprotein, microalgae, and edible insects have to win mainstream support.

It’s too soon to tell how the markets will shake out in terms of split, as meat-based proteins still drive purchasing patterns. Meat’s strengths in agriculture, food processing technology, together with research and development, give them an advantage in what promises to be an interesting battle for consumer attention. Dairy farmers are keen to highlight their positives – from using less land to make milk to producing milk that is processed into cheese, or bottled for milk and sold locally.

One of the great challenges is providing locally sourced, nutrient-dense, affordable food to a global population expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050. Dairy farmers understand they have a shared responsibility to future generations, and that begins with the production of high-quality, locally sourced milk.

The protein alternatives market has hurdles to overcome from updates to policy through commercial scale-up to infrastructure and manufacturing facility investment.

What I took from my visit to Kerry is that with plant-based demand, the advances in plant protein technology and flavours has led to the addition of more vegan options. Plant-based products will become more broadly available and will create a larger appeal to all consumers. This could be the time when long-term change and adoption will take place.

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