For plant-based foods, the future is bright. That was the overarching theme at this year’s Expo East, from the show floor to educational sessions. And with good reason. Eighty-three percent of Americans said they are open to making meatless dishes, particularly if they have a similar taste and texture to meat-centric dishes, according to a study by the California Walnut Board, which certainly has a stake in the plant-based game.
But there are more stats to back up the meatless game. Thirty-six percent of consumers buy plant-based meats; 26% of consumers say they have reduced their consumption of meat in the past 12 months; and 58% of adults drink non-dairy milk, according to speakers at Expo East. Fifty-eight percent.
And consumers are walking the talk, so to speak, when it comes to actual purchase data. Nielsen recently looked at sales of plant-based foods intended to replace meat, eggs and dairy and found that those sales reach $3.1 billion with 8.1% growth.
One area that has great potential is dairy alternatives. The Nielsen data found that these products, excluding milk, had a 20% growth rate, with yogurt leading the pack at 56%. Milk alternatives are up 3.1%, compared with cow’s milk, which is down 5%.
While the present looks pretty bright for plant-based alternatives, the future could be even brighter. The dairy alternative market is projected to be worth $19.5 billion by 2020; the plant-based meat market is expected to reach $5 billion by 2020; and plant-based protein could represent one-third of all protein by 2054, according to Expo East speakers.
One possible wrinkle in the dairy alternatives is H.R. 778 or the Dairy Pride Act, which was introduced in January. According to FDA regulations, “milk” means coming from a cow. The Dairy Pride Act would redefine that to be from “a hooved animal,” which would not allow any plant-based dairy alternatives (milk, cheese, yogurt) to use the word “milk.”
There were many present at Expo East in Baltimore who are fighting to stop the bill, including Michele Simon, executive director of the newly formed Plant Based Foods Association. “It’s not a guarantee that we can stop it, but we are certainly doing all that we can,” she said. “The positive thing about this bill being introduced is it put us and several members of our group on the map.”
Simon says because plant-based alternatives aren’t using the word milk alone, but with additional words like almond or alternative, they aren’t confusing to consumers, something the dairy industry contends.
Simon’s group, among others, is working to enact changes to policy and legislation to help bolster the plant-based industry. That can be difficult in a society that has for so long been dependent on Big Ag. When asked if Congress understands the importance for promoting plant-based agricultural policies, Simon said, “It’s a mixed bag.”
“There are certainly some that are set in the status quo and that’s hard to get away from,” she continued. “We’re coming up for the next Farm Bill. We’re not too hopeful that this Congress or administration will make big changes to that bill. But there are some younger members who are ‘seeing the light’ and they do a lot to bring attention to these issues. There’s definitely a shift happening, and we’re going to keep pushing to make that happen.”