Veganism And Plant Power Driving Health

2018 is turning into the year of ‘plant power’ – at least if the latest innovation trends in health, speciality foods and baked goods are anything to go by.

With an increasing proportion of consumers opting to go animal-free, food brands and retailers are opening their eyes to the opportunities presented by plant and vegetable ingredients – and maximising the power of vegetables, herbs and other plant ingredients in their new product launches.

The explosion of veganism as a global innovation trend is extraordinary. Data from Gama Compass – Gama’s flagship platform for consumer goods insights – shows that while fewer than 3% of new food and drink products made a ‘vegan’ claim in 2015, this increased to over 10% in 2018 year to date, with ‘vegetarian’ claims also growing strongly over the same period. This effect is mirrored at the category level, where launches of meat substitutes now outpace those in many traditional areas of the meat and poultry market.


The growth of veganism – and the associated “plant power” trend – as key drivers of food innovation is not one-dimensional, however. Indeed vegetables are being put to a variety of uses across food and drink product ranges, as companies discover the multitude of benefits vegetables can bring to the table in terms of health, novelty, taste and overall product experience.

One of the most intriguing transformations to have been witnessed in global NPD over the past months and years has been the transition of ‘staple foods’ like bread and pasta to low-carbohydrate, health-focused categories. In many modern product launches, flour is being substituted for vegetable ingredients such as carrot, parsnip and beetroot, allowing brands to offer products with a lower calorie payload and the benefit of convenient, concentrated nutrition.

Perhaps the best example of this transition is the rapid rise of the cauliflower crust pizza – cauliflowers taking the place of a traditional flour and yeast dough in launches that are often vegan, low-carb and frequently also gluten-free. From this perspective, the rise of ‘vegan’ positioning is not just about brands adapting to increased take-up of animal-free diets – it’s also about an eagerness to intertwine veganism with broader trends such as ‘free from’, ‘pure and natural’ and the universal concept of ‘clean eating’, in what sometimes appears to be an act of frantic virtue signalling. Astonishingly, as many as 60% of all new food and drink products reported on Gama Compass since 2014 that claim to be ‘vegan’ also claim to be ‘gluten-free’. ‘Gluten-free’ claims for food and drink launches as a whole across the same time period are just 14%.


Far from just adding health benefits, however, vegetables are increasingly taking their place in the limelight as ‘stars of the show’ in their own right, in a whole host of speciality food segments. Root vegetables such as swede, carrot and sweet potato are usurping conventional white potato in the frozen chips (fries) category. Herbal and vegetable flavours are inspiring a new generation of more adult-friendly soft drinks and cold-pressed smoothies. Even in traditionally sweet categories such as breakfast cereal and cakes, vegetable ingredients such as carrot and pumpkin are introducing earthier, more subtle flavours, as well as new textural benefits.

As we head towards 2019, the reign of vegetable ingredients in the food and drinks sector looks to be far from over. For food brands and retailers, this may mean being ready to explore new and uncharted territory in their speciality food lines. An increasing consumer cohort turning away from animal ingredients and towards the ‘power of plants’ opens up new possibilities for companies keen to tap into the latest in health and flavour trends. Knowledge Partner