Food: a boulevard opens up to plant-based proteins and new resources

The food transition is underway. Spurred on by increasingly discerning consumers who want to put products on their plate that are good for both human health and planet health. The protein sector is very creative and introduces innovative ingredients to the market based on plant-based proteins and new resources.

Review of market trends and potential by Juliette de Perthuis-Gougis, Director of the Food Division at Nutrikéo, a consulting agency in nutrition strategies.


Which markets are the most active and have the greatest growth potential?

In France, the most dynamic market is for dairy product substitutes, such as yoghurts and dessert creams, which we have seen increase by 22% per year between 2017 and 2019 (Kantar, 2019). This segment is also performing very well globally and is expected to grow at a sustained rate of 11% per year by 2023 (Markets and Markets, 2019). In comparison, the overall market for vegetable protein products is expected to grow by 5% per year over the same period (Kerry, 2019). The market for plant-based drinks, such as milk substitutes, is also experiencing good momentum with + 3.4% per year between 2017 and 2019 in France (Kantar, 2019), boosted in particular by the increase in the prevalence of lactose intolerance in Europe.

The meat substitutes market is also growing. In France, it has been increasing for several years in volume and value, with a jump of more than 20% in value between 2017 and 2018 (Kantar, 2019).  Despite a slight slowdown last year, forecasts are looking good and a growth of 15% per year is forecasted between 2019 and 2023, reaching €248 million in 3 years (Euromonitor, 2019). The potential is enormous, and much is expected from the development of 3rd generation substitutes and the diversification of protein sources.

Seafood substitutes represent a negligible market for the moment, but with great potential given the ecological problems linked to overfishing and the health problems linked to heavy metal pollution that we are experiencing. We are starting to see a few products appear, such as the Sensational Vuna tuna substitute that Nestlé launched in Switzerland this summer.


Who are the players who position themselves in these markets: agri-food manufacturers seeking to diversify, innovative start-ups?

Everyone is doing it and, basically, the small ones lead innovation, and the big ones dominate sales. Nestlé largely dominates the French meat substitutes market with Herta which holds 57% of the market (Kantar, 2019) and is thus ahead of the historical players in the vegetable sector such as Nutrition & Santé or Sojasun. The retailer brands that have embarked on the plant race with dedicated brands (Monoprix “Le Plant”, “Carrefour Veggie” “Nat & Vie” by Leclerc, etc.) share nearly 18% of the market. In terms of milk substitutes, Bjorg is well ahead with 56% of the shares, followed by Alpro (Danone). Private labels are also present since they represent around 50% of the market. However, as with many emerging segments in the food industry, the most notable innovations are mostly launched by start-ups * who are making a difference by challenging the authorities and the science.


How is the offer changing?

For meat substitutes, we speak of “generations”. Initially, only the first-generation substitutes existed: products like tofu, which had no ambition to resemble meat but presented themselves as new foods providing protein like meat. Driven by the difficulty of consuming vegetable proteins within the framework of traditional dietary models which are difficult to change, we then saw the appearance of second-generation substitutes, having the same shape as meat products, and therefore the same type of use in kitchen or on the plates. These are “steaks,” “sausages,” or other plant-based “nuggets.” These types of products are now the heart of the market and are evolving towards more clean labels to obtain recipes that are less complex and understood by consumers.

From 2015, we then saw the appearance of third-generation substitutes, which aim to resemble meat both in appearance and in organoleptic properties. The idea is to obtain products that can substitute for meat in terms of appearance, taste and texture. American start-ups such as Impossible Food and Beyond Meat have entered the market. These high-potential start-ups have achieved impressive fundraising, allowing them to quickly establish themselves locally and then internationally. Beyond Meat supplies “vegetable chickens” to KFC in the USA and now also “vegetable steaks” from Buffalo Grill in France; Burger King incorporates Beyond Meat steaks into burgers.

The fourth generation is still in the research stage but is progressing: it is about in vitro meat, a subject that we are following very closely.

The offer is also diversifying in terms of protein sources. If we saw almost exclusively soybeans in the 2000s, the sources gradually diversified to make way for oilseeds, seeds, mushrooms, microalgae… Tomorrow, what about insect flour in these products?


Is there a risk of saturation in the long term?

There is still a long way to go before we get to this point. Between the different generations, the discovery of new sources of protein, the multiple times of consumption, the product categories, the distribution channels … there is still a lot to explore and room for all those who will start intelligently in the medium term. The market is still in its infancy. Alternatives to meat now represent less than 1% of the global meat market, it is expected to reach 9% in 2040 according to Simon Powell, analyst at Jefferies.


What is the promise of these new products?

A triple promise of respect for the environment, animal welfare, and healthier products, three issues that are growing in the minds of populations. If yesterday they were only addressing the target (niche) of vegetarians or vegans, they are now targeting everyone, and primarily flexitarians who already represent 30% of the French population according to Kantar!


According to which criteria do consumers turn to them?

The choice of products is based on multiple criteria. Taste is a particularly important aspect in the movement to democratize plant-based nutrition. The composition too: there is a particularly strong search for natural and “clean label” ingredients in this type of product.

Likewise, consumers turn primarily to companies that have strong and concrete commitments in terms of the environment and ethics. The packaging is therefore of great importance. The oldest and most informed consumers also seek variety in terms of protein sources: the era of “all-soy” is no more, with room for additional sources for more discovery and balance in amino acids ( debates on phytoestrogens also have something to do with it). Finally, we should note a strong search for practicality in product formats, which represents a good opportunity for mobile formats, such as bars and drinks.


Is this trend sustainable?

There is no doubt that this trend will continue. As I said above, we are only at the beginning. Consumer numbers will increase more and more. The trend will affect all product categories. The rejuvenation has caught the train a little late but will get going at high speed. Collective catering (?) will be driven by regulations, commercial growth by a growing customer demand.


The pleasure of tasting, the gastronomic dimension dear to France, are they not lost in these new products?

Fortunately not! Vegetation of food is very compatible with gastronomy. This is the reason for the existence of 3rd generation meat substitutes. Vegetables are taking more and more place in the kitchens of gourmet restaurants and in the programs of the biggest cooking competitions. The French food model, as it evolves, will always bring together the values of gastronomy, of sharing and of the land.

* Editor’s note: Among the promising start-ups in this area: Excellent, New Farmers, New Affineurs or La Révolution Champignon.


Strong growth in consumer support

Published in September 2020, the consumer barometer carried out by the Group for the Study and Promotion of Plant Proteins (GEPV) and Proteins France shows that plant proteins are enjoying an increasingly positive image in France:

– Respondents consider them to be good for health (92%), good for the environment (84%) and of good quality (73%), in proportions much higher than the 2018 barometer.

– It is among women, young people aged 18-24, artisans / traders / entrepreneurs and residents of Ile-de-France that enthusiasm is greatest.

– 50% of those surveyed have already bought products made from vegetable proteins. 10% even say they use it often (compared to 9% in 2018).

– Steaks, desserts and drinks are the most frequently consumed products.

– Finally, it appears that new proteins (algae, insects, micro-organisms) are arousing growing interest, since 4 in 10 French people say they are interested in the combination of animal proteins and new proteins.

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