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Plant-Based Snacking: a Niche Concern or a Major Opportunity?

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This article originally appeared in Ingredienti Alimentari journal.

Euromonitor International’s Voice of the Consumer: Lifestyles survey reveals that 30% of consumers are looking to reduce their consumption of animal products. As such, it is no surprise that plant-based innovation has driven so many of the new product launches seen in foods. Whilst initially mainly targeted at dairy (in the form of milk alternatives) and meats (in the form of meat substitutes), plant-based innovation has become wide-ranging across all food segments – particularly throughout Western Europe.

Snacks manufacturers have noted this trend and many major brands have added plant-based alternatives to their portfolio. In ice cream, for example, Ben & Jerry’s has launched a selection of almond-based options. In chocolate confectionery, the selection of oat-based chocolate has increased on retailers’ shelves since 2020 and includes Cadbury plant-based chocolate. Meat snacks have seen more plant-based offerings too, with a key example being 2021’s partnership between Beyond Meat and PepsiCo producing plant-based jerky.

In the last three years, the global share of snacks with vegan and plant-based claims has increased significantly. Leading snacks manufacturers such as Mondelez in chocolate confectionery or Unilever in ice cream have innovated to develop the offer. For example, starting with its first vegan SKU in 2016, Ben & Jerry’s had more than 16 in 2022.

The Rise of Plant-Based Snacking Chart 1.svg

Plant-based snacks adapt to four key trends

Snacks’ first functionalities are based on two basic pillars: impulse and convenience. Over time, as urbanisation expanded and time for meals reduced, and consumers looked for additional value to their staple foods, snacking occasions have increased globally.

Moreover, looking at the major trends currently driving snacks sales in the world, health, sustainability, premiumisation and indulgence remain very important. As such, it is important for plant-based snacks to incorporate these elements in their positioning strategy.

Trend one: Health

Euromonitor’s Health and Nutrition survey reveals that, for both meat and dairy alternatives, over a third of people who eat these products do so to feel healthier. Health concerns remain the most likely element driving consumers to switch from animal-based to plant-based foods globally.

In snacks, offering healthier products and alternatives to more indulgent snacks has been a key driver of industry growth in the last few years. But having a better diet is not the only health driver leading consumers to consume plant-based snacks – 18% of consumers choosing a dairy-free diet are lactose intolerant based on Euromonitor’s Voice of the Consumer: Health and Nutrition Survey in 2022.

Naturally, then, some of the key innovation in plant-based snacks targets health benefits. One such example is Bulgarian company, Coppa della Maga, which first started producing plant-based ice cream in 2018. In 2021, it added two new products to its sugar-free vegan ice cream range; the latest version made of coconut milk is characterised by added probiotics and immunity support.

Trend two: Sustainability

Of those consumers following a flexitarian/plant-based diet, 42% of global consumers report doing so in order to reduce their impact on the environment, based on Euromonitor’s Voice of the Consumer: Health and Nutrition Survey, fielded in 2022. The impact of animal agriculture on the environment is a major concern for many, especially the young: when looking at these survey results by generation, millennials are the most likely to respond this way.

Advances in production methods have allowed diversification in recent years. For example, fermentation enabled the company WNWN (pronounced “win-win”) to develop a cocoa-free chocolate in 2022. The start-up partnered with DLISH, an Italian luxury gift service, and uses traditional fermentation techniques with plant-based ingredients such as barley or carob. The resulting chocolate is vegan and gluten free. For conscious consumers, this product goes one step further into sustainability as it is locally produced, does not involve uncontrolled labour and does not contain animal-derived ingredients.

Trend three: Premium offering

Overall in snacks, plant-based options remain more expensive than standard options. In ice cream, for instance, the average price of plant-based products is 1.3-3 times more expensive than that of their dairy counterparts.The Rise of Plant-Based Snacking Chart 2.svgPlant-based snacks options are still considered premium choices in many countries. Finland and Sweden show the smallest average price gap between dairy and plant-based ice cream. These are also the markets with the highest plant-based ice cream per capita volume consumption. Sustainability remains one of the biggest reasons for Nordic consumers to consume plant-based products and the offering is more mainstream than in other markets (leading premiumisation to slow down).

In other snacks categories, innovating in plant-based to enhance a premium portfolio is a key pillar for manufacturers investing in mature categories as volume sales growth slows. In 2022, Kit Kat launched vegan countlines in 15 European countries. In the Netherlands, the price per kg is twice as high as its normal 4-bar format.

Trend four: Indulgence

Last, but by no means least, is indulgence. Plant-based, wrongly or rightly, is often associated with health. To better target the snacking consumer, communication could be centred around indulgence rather than restrictive “free from” claims. Adjectives such as “creamy” and “smooth” can enhance the indulgent positioning of a food whilst, at the same time, allowing for recipes containing dairy-alternative ingredients such as oats or almonds.

Major opportunity

Whilst plant-based snacks are still relatively niche compared to their dairy and meat counterparts, vast opportunities lie ahead as consumer demand ramps up with consumers looking to reduce animal-based foods, whether through a vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian diet.

What’s more, plant-based snacks demand a more premium price tag, which consumers are seeming to accept given the extra benefit the product gives, be it through a health positioning or a (better) environmental impact.

Overall, the plant-based snacks market is expected to continue to grow as consumers seek out healthier and more sustainable snack options and major opportunities lie ahead for snack manufacturers.



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