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Plant-based Protein: Assessing Demand for Sustainable Alternatives

March 2017

It is undeniable that protein is an indispensable part of the human diet, but the way we produce it today presents many challenges, both for human consumption and its economic and environmental impact. This briefing develops a unique protein index which ranks 34 markets in terms of their readiness and future appeal for plant-based protein in savoury snacks, milk, ice cream and processed meat. It also assesses recent innovations in plant-based foods to help manufacturers with their R&D efforts.

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It is not the lack of protein but the type of protein that is the problem

Within developed markets consumers eat more than the recommended amount of protein. However, the majority of this protein comes from animal-based protein sources. In fact, with the exception of Japan and India, fresh meat and dairy tend to be the main contributors to protein purchases in the world’s top 10 packaged food markets. This puts new strains on water, soil fertility, biodiversity and climate change.

Australia tops the charts in the protein index in plant-based ice cream, savoury snacks and processed meat

In 2016, Australia ranked first in plant-based savoury snacks, processed meat and ice cream because of the large demand for free-from and organic products, the high share of Millennials, the growing share of vegetarians and vegans, and rapidly rising demand for sports protein and weight management products, two of thee primary use cases for protein.

The US and Sweden are two of the most promising markets

While Australia ranks first in terms of the current attractiveness for plant-based products, the US and Sweden hold the highest future potential. Sweden has shown by far the biggest improvements in the rankings in a variety of products, on the back of favourable legislation, innovative local brands, rising availability and the affordability of plant-based options.

The plant protein world is extending beyond soya to include lupine, insects and algal ingredients

It is no longer soya and ancient grains which are the main alternatives to meat and dairy. Innovation is already on the way to integrating high-protein pulses such as lupine and chickpeas, algal ingredients including spirulina, and insects into packaged food and beverages.

Regulation is underway to limit meat consumption

A number of key markets, including China, France and Australia, are making important legislative changes to curb meat consumption and divert consumers to plant-based diets, which is likely to boost the future demand for plant protein.


Key findings

The Case for Plant-based Protein

Lack of protein is not the issue
Animal-based proteins are the biggest sources of protein
The majority of added protein comes from milk and soya
Meat is the new sustainable food issue
Animal protein places huge pressure on land use
Plant proteins more commensurate with UN sustainability goals
Are pulses the answer?
Pulses and sea plants are among the leading plant protein sources

Protein Index: Identifying Target Markets in Plant-based Protein

Analysis framework
Milk alternatives: North America leads, the UK follows suit
Italy is forecast to overcome Germany and the Netherlands
US consumers are diverging away from almond milk
China one to watch out for in milk alternatives
Ice cream: Australia tops the charts in 2016
Australia: One of the most innovative vegan ice cream markets
Strong local brands propel vegan ice cream’s growth in Sweden
Savoury snacks: the US, Canada and Australia are frontrunners
Australia triumphs over the US to rank first in plant-based snacks
The Netherlands will be among the top five target markets
Processed meat: Australia ranks first, the US is a close contender
Animal welfare concerns: A key driver of the meat substitutes boom
Regulation is underway to limit meat consumption
Meat substitutes are becoming increasingly affordable

Innovation and Future Trends

Plant-based food is becoming the province of Big Food
Lupine as a meat substitute
Ancient grains as gluten-poor, protein-rich alternatives to wheat
Vegan ice cream goes mainstream
Chickpeas: A magical substitute for eggs, and potentially milk
Insect sources: Forever niche, or the next big thing?
Algal protein could be a lucrative proposition in the long term


Decomposing the protein index
Protein index: Explanation of variables


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