Demand for vegan and plant-based foods is now a global phenomenon, with product innovations and distribution driving market growth. Although most new developments are taking place in Europe and the US, Ecovia Intelligence anticipates future growth in Asia and Latin America. At its recent Sustainable Foods Summit in Singapore, it was evident that Asian demand for proteins is growing at an accelerated rate.

Asia Research & Engagement projects meat & seafood consumption to rise by 78% between 2018 and 2050. Voracious appetite for fish is rapidly depleting the oceans. The world's fisheries are in crisis, and The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 90 percent of them have collapsed. China, with around 200,000 fishing vessels plays a significant role in this situation.

More information and education about the need to reduce fish consumption and better regulation to avoid overfishing to give the ocean an opportunity to regenerate are needed. Awareness of the health and environmental risks involved in higher meat and fish consumption might help, more Asian consumers turn to plant-based proteins, as we see today happening in countries like Germany, The UK, and the United States.

Innovation with plant-based proteins is a crucial driver of market growth. Most product innovations were initially from the US; examples include the Beyond Burger, Impossible Burger, and JUST Scramble. Europe is now seeing a large number of new product launches. The Vegetarian Butcher launched the first vegan smoked sausage in August. Hydrosol Sundogs was introduced as a vegan sausage compound that is allergen-free (absence of soya and wheat). Hellman’s is launching its egg-free vegan mayonnaise in the UK this month.

New product launches in Europe and the US target Western diets. Seeing a gap in the market, the Hong Kong-based company Right Treat presented the first plant-based alternative to pork earlier this year. Premium restaurants have started to use omnipork in Asian specialties such as steamed dumplings and sweet & sour dishes.

Distribution is another relevant driver, with almost all major retailers in Europe and North America actively marketing plant-based meats and dairy products under their private labels. In the US, giant retailer Kroger is expanding its vegan range for its Simply Truth brand. Discounter Aldi recently announced that it would be adding vegan options to its Earth Grown brand in its 1,800 American stores.

Upcoming editions of the Sustainable Foods Summit will show that most future opportunities are expected to be in the foodservice channel. A growing number of restaurants, coffee shops, and similar outlets are adding vegan options to their menus. Pizza Express debuted the world’s first vegan Just Egg pizzas in Asia earlier this year. In New Zealand, Domino’s has just introduced vegan cheesy garlic bread following the success of its vegan pizzas. Moving Mountains is introducing its meatless ‘bleeding’ burgers in the UK pubs. In the Netherlands, McDonald’s has launched Valess variant burgers that replace chicken with a non-meat substitute, and in Canada, the fast food chain A&W run out of its “Beyond Meat Burger” as soon as it was introduced at all its stores in July.

In the US, plant-based foods are already prominent in foodservice establishments. The Impossible Foods ‘bleeding’ burger is present in over 3,000 outlets. The number of new diners that focus on vegan foods is mushrooming. For instance, VeggieGrill opened its 31st outlet in California a few weeks ago. It has a range of plant-based foods, such as burgers, sandwiches, as well as salads. Since opening its first store in 2015, Green Common now has six vegan stores in Hong Kong. In Singapore, Greendot has ten casual diners that specialize in vegetarian foods. A similar trend is occurring in São Paulo, Rio, and other Latin American cities.

Consumers everywhere are showing more interest in plant-based foods. A recent study by Cargill shows that half of the American shoppers are buying milk and non-dairy products. According to the Vegan Society, more than half of British adults exhibit vegan buying behavior. However, most purchases are not by vegans and vegetarians, but by meat and dairy reducers, flexitarians, and those suffering from food allergies. The millennials are becoming more influential, driven by health, ethical and environmental motives.

The environmental benefits of plant-based foods are well documented. Livestock products generate about 15% of all greenhouse gases and take up two-thirds of the agricultural land. There are 1.5 billion cows on the planet, producing 5.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. Research by the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems shows that a plant-based burger generates 90% fewer greenhouse gases, 99% less impact on water scarcity, and 93% less impact on the land than a quarter pound of American beef.

Citing such environmental credentials, some argue the future of the sustainable food industry is with plant-based foods. Ecovia Intelligence (www.ecoviaint.com) believes the sustainability choice between meat & dairy products and plant-based foods is a false dichotomy.

Animal-based products have many sustainability merits. Livestock brings many benefits to farms; for instance, plowing fields and improving soil fertility. Livestock farming also sustains many rural communities, creating employment and maintaining agricultural economies. In this respect, meat and dairy products can have more significant impacts than plant-based products.

With plant-based foods continuing to grow at double-digit levels, vegan products have a future in the sustainable food industry. However, so do meat & dairy products, especially those made according to organic & sustainable farming methods.

Plant-based foods and sustainable food trends will be featured at the Sustainable Foods Summit Latin America 29-30 November, São Paulo and the Sustainable Foods Summit North America 16-17 January, San Francisco. More details at www.sustainablefoodssummit.com