Why plant-based is rocket fuel for the industry

The plant-based dietary trend received a crucial boost when the BMJ published a study involving 2,800 frontline healthcare professionals across the UK, Europe and the US.

It showed an association between plant-based diets and reduced risk of developing moderate or severe Covid-19, as well as lower odds for those following a pescatarian diet.

Plant-based diets were associated with a 73% reduction in the incidence of moderate to severe disease from Covid-19, while pescatarian diets were linked to a 59% reduction.

The study (nutrition.bmj.com/content/4/1/257) was based on an online survey conducted using objective criteria in summer 2020 which questioned respondents’ food frequency with 47 different items and the severity of the infections they had experienced.

Participants provided data on personal backgrounds, medical history, use of medication and lifestyle. The findings held true after factoring in BMI and co-existing medical conditions.

Researchers said the correlation could be explained by the likelihood that plant-based diets are more nutrient-rich, especially in phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals and are linked to a healthy immune system.

Health, animal welfare and environmental concerns are fuelling the plant-based boom, according to Maria Mascaraque, Food & Nutrition Industry Manager at Euromonitor International (blog.euromonitor.com).

The research provider’s Health and Nutrition Survey reports the main reason people follow vegan diets is animal rights (37% of global respondents). On the other hand, the key motivator for vegetarians is their health.

Mascaraque believes there is a generational pattern among consumers following any animal-product eating restrictions. Younger generations are increasingly looking for food options that are healthier and more ethical and they associate these features with plant-based options. They are Instagrammers and YouTubers more than they are Facebookers.

“Even though plant-based categories are growing, how to market and position these products remains a challenge,” she says. “While vegetarian claims are the most popular in the packaged food industry in Asia Pacific and Australasia, vegan claims enjoy higher penetration in Western Europe and North America.

“Plant-based as a claim lags behind in all regions. This is interesting as the term ‘plant-based’ can be perceived as a more inclusive and appealing term. It aligns with the societal discourse of following lifestyles that reduce animal-based products but do not necessarily eliminate them completely from the diet. This can potentially be more appealing for the wider breadth of consumers that are reducing the amount of animal-based food they eat.”

With milk alternatives in the UK, dairy-free goes hand in hand with vegan claims. This aligns with the fact that ethical reasons and animal welfare are key factors for UK consumers to choose plant-based offerings, and the ‘vegan’ claim directly connects with these factors. By featuring both claims, brands can connect with a wider group of consumers.

“After ice-cream and yoghurt, next on the list are non-dairy cream, cheese and sour milk products (e.g. kefir). They are still niche but key areas to focus on during the coming years as the plant- based trend makes inroads into these categories.”

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