With a considerable rise in sales of plant-based goods and more consumers than ever switching to vegan diets, Jonathan Morley, managing director of Plant Based World Europe show organiser JD Events Ltd, explores what is driving this change and the unique opportunity it presents foodservice providers and retailers

The plant-based sector is one of the fastest-growing areas of the food industry right now. The sales of meat-free products have grown by an astonishing 40% in the past five years, equating to an estimated £816m in 2019 alone. With a huge number of revolutionary plant-based products being launched every month, it is almost impossible to keep up, and it isn’t just cutting-edge start-ups leading the way.

Private label supermarket brands and meat and dairy companies are also innovating. What’s more, the quality of the products is impeccable, and this is demonstrated by the fantastic reception they receive from consumers. For instance, when KFC introduced its Quorn Chicken Burger it sold one million patties in its first month alone. Similarly, Sainsbury’s vegan cheese exceeded sales expectations by 300% when it was introduced in 2017.

The consumer appetite for plant-based food only continues to grow, with one in five Brits cutting down on their meat consumption during the Covid-19 pandemic and 15% reducing their dairy or egg intake over the lockdown period, according to The Vegan Society. With consumer appetite for plant-based food at an all-time high, and with so much innovation taking place across the industry, it feels like the perfect time to launch Europe’s first dedicated plant-based food show to offer the unique opportunity to discover all the industry has to offer in one place.

What is driving consumer change?

Plant-based diets aren’t a new concept. However, the industry is growing at a much faster rate than ever before and it is estimated that by 2025, vegans and vegetarians will make up a quarter of the British population and flexitarians just under half of all UK consumers, according to Sainsbury’s Future of Food report. This growth has been amplified even further in recent months during the pandemic.

Whilst the foodservice industry as a whole has taken a significant hit in the short term, the food sector remains safe to some extent as it is a necessity. To adapt, many have had to pivot their businesses to create safer experiences for customers. For instance, many independent retailers have begun limiting the number of people in-store and introducing home delivery options or curb-side pickup.

Similarly, supermarkets have created one-way systems and limited the quantity you could buy of certain items. Our shopping habits have changed as a result and we now make fewer trips but with an increased total basket spend.

What consumers are buying has also changed. Over half of UK consumers (55%) now claim they are considering or actively reducing their meat intake, according to IGD ShopperVista. There are several reasons behind these changing attitudes, including a shift towards prioritising our health and wellbeing due to the pandemic.

How is retail facilitating change?

Supermarkets present the perfect platform to connect consumers with shelf-ready plant-based alternatives, and their customers are demanding more each year. Veganuary remains the most popular time for those considering making the switch to a plant-based diet, with searches for vegan alternatives on Asda.com increasing by 417% this year compared to January 2019. In fact, the retailer reported that 63,000 people were searching for vegan products at the start of this year, a significant increase from 12,000 the year prior.

Capitalising on this trend, Asda introduced 48 new plant-based products to its shelves during Veganuary 2020, including a vegan Katsu curry, which exceeded sales expectations by 92%. The supermarket also received praise from the public after it introduced a dedicated plant-based food aisle across hundreds of stores in September.

Elsewhere, Tesco has experienced a 40% increase in demand for vegan foods, and Marks & Spencer’s No Chicken Kiev was so popular the company sold four per minute in January 2020.

Where to go from here

As the plant-based sector continues to go from strength to strength, it is important that collaboration and innovation does not slow down. Events have a key part to play in this because they allow retailers, innovators and product developers to share ideas and best practices to further the growth of the industry. Plant Based World Europe will be one of the first food shows to go ahead in 2021 and will be the only dedicated plant-based event in Europe.

Following the success of the US show, where almost 4,000 visitors from across the industry attended to taste and source plant-based products from 125 exhibitors, the European show will take place at London’s Business Design Centre on the 8 and 9 April. It will offer industry professionals the unique opportunity to hear from the world’s leading plant-based experts and discover more about the incredible innovation taking place, with brands such as Meatless Farm, Beyond Meat, JUST, Moving Mountains, and Follow Your Heart showcasing their latest plant-based developments.

In addition to big name exhibitors, the conference programme will host educational seminars to demonstrate the business power of the industry, whilst the Culinary Theatre will offer visitors the chance to sample the foods on display throughout the show floor prepared by professional chefs.

The growth of the market, rising consumer demand, constant innovation and increasing business opportunities are all incredibly exciting. The future is definitely plant-based, and I am confident that Plant Based World Europe will be the single most important event for this industry.

To register for Plant Based World Europe or find out more information, please visit http://www.plantbasedworldeurope.com/register.asp