Choosing Substitutes: The Rising Tide of Non-animal Proteins

March 2021

Plant-based eating and alternative proteins are dynamic, disruptive forces in the food and nutrition market, gaining in popularity as consumer motivations regarding consumption of these foods grow. The global Coronavirus pandemic provided a boost and producers are rolling out new products, new positionings and novel ingredients. In addition, demographic trends are favourable and national support, driven by sustainability and food security concerns, suggests a bright future.

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Key Findings

A market surging forward

Sales of alternative proteins and plant-based substitutes continue to grow, and the impact of COVID-19 caused an acceleration, as mobility restrictions increased eating at home. While this was true of food retail in general, plant-based alternatives benefited to a greater degree than many other foods, with perceptions of their benefits working in their favour.

Motivations are strong, but challenges lie ahead

Key motivations for purchase and consumption include plant-based food’s health profile, sustainability claims and animal welfare (with the pandemic often strengthening these in consumers’ minds). The future is likely to see ever greater scrutiny of claims, especially as substitutes increase in viability as challengers to animal-based food’s hegemony.

Demographics favour plant-based food

Across a host of motivations and behaviours relating to plant-based consumption, it is younger adults that are most likely to hold such beliefs and commit to such actions. This, coupled with their increased likelihood to believe in their ability to make a difference and to have a willingness to do so, should support success in the future.

Lab-grown meat’s day may be dawning

As 2020 drew to a close, lab-grown meat finally became available for human consumption (through foodservice) in Singapore. The location was no coincidence, as the government had backed cell-based development as part of moves to meet future climate change obligations and food security concerns. A number of countries around the world are also following this path; as such, a presence on retail shelves may come soon.

Dynamic developments abound – and go beyond NPD

Developments in product types, positioning and – especially in dairy’s case – strength as an analogue are all underway, and novel ingredients are pressing the case to be the next big thing in production of alternatives. Also significant, however, are developments outside the lab, with investment, deals and collaborations involving multinational giants of the food world pointing to the continued potential in the alternative proteins and plant-based substitutes sphere.


Key findings

The Market

A buoyant market, boosted by the pandemic
North America and Western Europe are the drivers
Vegan/vegetarian/plant-based SKUs centre on WE, AP and NA
COVID-19 accelerates growth
Protein demand keeps rising…
…and plant-based alternatives respond

Consumer Motivation

The “health halo” helps alternatives
Sustainability concerns increase consumption
Animal welfare particularly drives younger adult uptake
COVID-19 affects motivation as well
Price problem diminishing
Health challenge from processed


Developments in meat alternatives: diversity in the west, pork in the east
Developments in seafood alternatives: unbreaded and investment
Developments in dairy alternatives: milk moves mean cheese potential
Developments in insects: major boost from the EU, momentum in Asia


Developments in cultured meat: Singapore pioneers sales to consumers…
…as countries around the world look to follow suit
Ingredient developments: warring claims in “the next big thing” fight

The Future

The context: mountains to climb…
…but those mountains may look smaller in time
Q1 2021: beyond the competition; giants come on board for retail…
…and foodservice
Continued success is forecast
Conclusions: a bright future but challenges ahead


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