What's all the fuss about plant-based? Top five trends

Talking Nutrition Editors

The plant-based revolution

  • Plant-based eating has hit the mainstream and shows no sign of slowing down, with dairy and meat alternatives taking root as firm favorites with US consumers as a ‘better for you’ dietary choice. In 2018 alone, sales of plant-based milks grew by 9% and plant-based meats 24%, opening up opportunities for manfacturers to tap into this growing market.[1]
  • The health benefits of incorporating more plant-based foods into diets are widely recognized. However, individuals following elimination diets are at a higher risk of micronutrient deficiencies and manufacturers of plant-based foods and beverages need to look at ways to fortify their products effectively. 
  • Here, we look at the key trends in plant-based foods and beverages and introduce our new guide to support marketers and product developers in finding a balance between developing plant-based products that are not only tasty and appealing, but also provide adequate nutrition.  

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Plant-based has arrived. Are you ready? From the latest in consumer trends, to tips on how to be an authentic voice in a growing market, this graphic guide will provide you with all the information you need to get started on your next, top-selling plant-based offering. 

What's at the root of the plant-based movement?

Diet trends are nothing new. In fact, the food and beverage market is saturated with them. Within this fast-paced environment, ‘plant-based’ has been a steady grower but only really found recognition in recent years due to a rise in the popularity of ‘flexiterianism’. One third of US consumers now consider themselves flexitarian, as they enjoy adding to their diet rather than restricting it.[2] There is also the growing ethical concerns for animal welfare, the environmental impact of how we source our food as well as general health and wellness driving consumer decision making.

The sale of plant-based foods grew by 20% between 2017 and 2018, cementing consumers’ belief in  plant-based as a dietary choice that evokes health and wellbeing, without having to exclude meat and dairy products for good.[3]

Here, we share five of the top trends in plant-based food and beverages and how manufacturers can leverage them for growth:


The plant-based dairy market has grown explosively. In 2018 alone, sales of plant-based milk in the US were up 9%, whereas cows’ milk experienced a drop of 6%.[4] Just ten years ago, finding plant-based milk alternatives to buy would mean scouring the shelves of obscure health food shops. Now, it’s everywhere you look, with brands competing to stand out on the shelves. And it’s not just limited to milk. Plant-based dairy alternatives, including plant-based cheeses, creamers, butter, yogurts and ice creams grew 50% in 2018 alone.[5]


"In the US, nearly half of all shoppers add plant-based milk to their basket."

The Guardian [6]



Similar to dairy alternatives, plant-based meat has escaped the realm of just being a substitute for those with dietary concerns, allergies or following a vegetarian or vegan diet. It’s growth of 24% in 2018 alone has seen brands such a Beyond Meat, famed for their pea protein burgers, added to the menus of food giants like McDonalds and KFC.[7] Not only has it expanded options beyond traditional alternatives such as tofu, but the latest plant-based meat alternatives offer tasty and appealing alternatives for consumers who are looking to reduce the amount of meat in their diets but still crave fast food staples like burgers and nuggets.  


Protein has made the transition from being a functional ingredient for the likes of athletes and weightlifters, to the consumer mainstream. In 2018, 55% of US households said that high protein is an important consideration when buying food.[8] With protein-packed products including plant-based burgers, energy balls and bars, consumers now have access to healthier and more sustainable ways to get more protein in their diets.


The popularity of protein has also led to an increased demand for ‘clean eating’ and healthy on-the-go snacks. Energy balls and bars, made predominantly from nuts, seeds and fruit, are hitting the mark with consumers as they search for ways to add more protein and fiber into their diets without sacrificing taste and convenience.


Consumers becoming more switched on to making healthier choices is nothing new, but with a rise in the popularity of plant-based diets, certain health concerns have become more prominent. Consumers are focusing more on boosting energy, improving digestive health and their overall immunity. Vitamins such as A, D and B12, plus the Omega 3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are widely available in animal-based foods, but more difficult to find in plant-based products. This along with the demand for probiotics, prebiotics and protein all represent opportunities for manufacturers to develop plant-based products that are fortified with these essential nutrients. For example, exciting plant-based milk prototypes harness the natural goodness of oats but are fortified with omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) from marine plants and vitamin B12, key nutrients to support brain health.[9] ​

Published on

01 November 2019



5 min read

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[1] Nielsen Data Release 2018, Plant Based Association

[2] New York Post, One Third of Americans consider themselves ‘flexitarian’ [website], https://nypost.com/2018/10/26/one-third-of-americans-consider-themselves-flexitarian/, (accessed 18 September).

[3] South China Morning Post, The hottest food trend right now isn’t ‘vegan’. It’s ‘plant-based’, [website], https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/article/2186666/hottest-food-trend-right-now-isnt-vegan-its-plant-based, [accessed 18 September].

[4] Nielsen Data Release 2018, Plant Based Association

[5] Ibid.,

[6] The Guardian, White gold: the unstoppable rise of alternative milks, [website], https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/jan/29/white-gold-the-unstoppable-rise-of-alternative-milks-oat-soy-rice-coconut-plant, [accessed 18 September].

[7] Nielsen Data Release 2018, Plant Based Association

[8] Nielsen, Protein: Consumers want it, but don’t understand it, [website], https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/article/2018/protein-consumers-want-it-but-dont-understand-it/, [accessed 18 September].

[9] D. O Kennedy, B Vitamins and the Brain, Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy – A Review, MDPI, Nutrients., vol. 8, no. 2, 2016.

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