image displaying a 2021 wellness trend of the use of plants as alternative supplement sources

Plant-Based Trends in Every Department: 7 Innovations to Watch for in 2021

Plant-Based Choices in Every Aisle

Plant-based diets might not be new, but you couldn’t tell that from looking at store shelves. Over the last few years, innovation and customer demand have moved the category beyond the longtime staples (i.e., plant-based meats and milk alternatives) and into a variety of new plant-based offerings across the entire store 

Throughout 2021, innovative plant-based brands will greet wellness-focused customer demands with new items such as plant-based seafood options and improve on existing staples like dairy alternatives and supplements.

Gone are the days of plant-based shoppers being restricted to a few brands and items; today they have choices in every aisle and we're unpacking seven innovations to watch for in 2021:

  1. Plant-Based Versions of Favorite Snacks
  2. Macronutrient Matching in Plant-Based Foods
  3. Overlooked Ingredients Get the Spotlight
  4. Plant-Based Seafood Goes Mainstream
  5. More Options for Plant-Based Cheese
  6. Unique Positioning for Plant-Based Beverages
  7. Plant-Based Vitamins and Supplements

DEEP DIVE: Plant-Based Innovation

Plant-Based Positioned Products Are Growing 2x Their Mainstream Counterparts

Exactly how much is the plant-based market growing?

SPINS reporting shows that the total plant-based marketplace is currently at $5.6 billion (SPINS Natural Enhanced +MultiOutlet) and growing 29% year over year—this is nearly double the 15% growth rate of the food and beverage market.  

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen evidence that shoppers are still committed to their diets and focus on health, and plant-based meals are on the rise for everyone from vegans to flexitarians to climatarians.

Plant-based growth is happening in large part to shoppers choosing more plant-based items for a variety of reasons, including animal welfare, personal health, and environmental concerns. That’s why you’ll be seeing innovative plant-based products appearing on shelves and in freezers throughout the store in 2021 and beyond. 

Plant-Based Versions of Favorite Snacks

When you think of plant-based snacks, you might immediately think of fruit chips or baby carrots—items that have been grocery fixtures for some time. However, jerky is slowly landing on more shelves as more brands find ways to find alternatives to meat. Plant-based jerky isn’t brand new, but there were few players until recently. 

“As veganism continues to take over the world, more inroads are being made in areas we have only seen a few options in the past. The vegan jerky world has taken off as of late,” says Warren Jones, Customer Insights Analyst for SPINS.  “Fruit jerky from Solely brand as well as mushroom jerky from the Pan's brand are prime examples.”  

You’ll continue to see this expansion reach more items, like pork rinds, comfort foods, pizzas, and more.  

Macronutrient Matching in Plant-Based Foods

While carbs have earned an unfairly negative reputation when it comes to weight loss, they can be difficult to fit in a balanced macronutrient-focused diet.  Plant-based foods often have a reputation for being high in carbs because they’re derived from beans and legumes, which pack strong nutritional benefits but have a lower protein-to-carb ratio than beef, poultry, and seafood. That’s why new offerings that provide nutritional parity make plant-based options an easier option for shoppers, especially if they’re on high-protein/low-carb diets.  

For example, not only do the new types of jerky mentioned above let meat-free dieters enjoy a classic grab-and-go snack for shoppers who want a convenient, protein-rich food between meals. Jack and Friends makes jerky from jackfruit and adds pea protein, which makes it a low-carb, keto-friendly, protein-rich, and soy-free options for health-minded plant-based shoppers who are tracking macros.  

Overlooked Ingredients Get the Spotlight

When shoppers think of plant-based proteins, they probably think of meat alternatives and tofu. Yet, seitan has been a mainstay for many plant-based consumers despite never receiving the same mainstream attention. This soy-based item has both a texture and protein content that makes it an easy substitute for animal proteins. The growing plant-based customer base, desire for nutritional parity, and need for variety have created an opportunity for tempeh to become a staple in the fridge. 

Another less traditional plant-based ingredients are also poised for mainstream popularity as more brands explore the possibility of innovative offerings. Oats are finding their way into meat alternatives, such as Pulled Oats, a pork alternative, and Oatzerella, a cheese alternative. More on cheese later.  

Katie Helms on why oats make such a great ingredient: "Oats are an amazing choice as a dairy-alternative because they are sustainable, heart healthy, full of antioxidants, and are even lower calorie than other options. Plus they add flavor!"

"Oats are an amazing choice as a dairy-alternative because they are sustainable, heart-healthy, full of antioxidants, and are even lower calorie than other options. Plus they add flavor!"

Katie Helms, Director Of Product Development at Rucksack Foods/ Oatzarella

image displaying the rise in plant-based meats

Plant-Based Seafood Goes Mainstream

Compared to beef and poultry options, plant-based seafood alternatives have been slow to gain traction with audiences. Fortunately for seafood lovers and pescatarians wanting to move to less animal-based diets, more brands are successfully replicating the distinct texture and flavor that have been missing from plant-based diets.  

“Plant-based fish is a small but growing category,” says Brittany Moore, Attribute Data Analyst for SPINS. “Ingredients like banana blossom mimic the texture of fish and algae offers a superfood boost to this developing trend.” 

More Options for Plant-Based Cheese

Similar to seafood, cheese tends to be a difficult item to find a comparable alternative to the animal-derived counterpart. For many would-be vegans, cheese is the one item they cannot give up. That’s becoming easier to do as the shelves gain new, innovative products. 

“Within the last year, several plant-based cheeses have passed through the SPINS product intelligence library—beyond the more traditional options,” says Autumn Burggraff, Attribute Data Analyst for SPINS. “This includes some private labels and conventional retailers offering shredded and sliced plant-based cheese options.” 

Unique Positioning for Plant-Based Beverages

Thanks to oat milk, soy milk, pea milk, kombucha, and a host of other drinks, plant-based beverages are neither new nor obscure trends. They are, in fact, quite popular and no longer a differentiator to most shoppers.

That’s why beverage manufacturers are broadening their offerings to reach more discerning shoppers who are looking for something a little extra in their products. Keep an eye out for more distinguishing attributes: ultra clean labels, no additives or added sugars, or whole food product formulations. Now that plant-based beverages have reached a point where shoppers are looking for points of differentiation that align with their personal health goals and lifestyles. 

Plant-Based Vitamins and Supplements

Vitamins and supplements are a frequent point of frustration for plant-based shoppers who read labels carefully. Popular items, such as D3, glucosamine/chondroitin, and collagen, are often derived from animals. More brands are offering vegan-friendly options, and in some cases (such as collagen) alternatives that offer similar benefits.  

What the Growth of Plant-Based Innovation Means For You

For Brands: Plant-based products have established themselves as a fixture on shopping lists and customers are looking for them throughout the entire store. Consumers expect these products to not only taste good but also deliver nutritional parityIf you’re offering plant-based products, consider how you plan to sustain growth and stand out in an increasingly crowded market. If you’re offering animal-derived products, consider what opportunities you have to explore the plant-based category or prepare your messaging to protect your position.  

For Retailers: With plant-based spreading its footprint across the store, review your product assortment to make sure you’re offering the full breadth of options. The combination of more plant-based shoppers and innovative offerings gives you plenty of opportunity to introduce discovery opportunities in-storeespecially through deliberate merchandising. Establish yourself as the local authority on plant-based offerings so your customers know they can get everything they’re looking for and even find items they didn’t know existed. 



Inside the report:

  • How plant-based products are proliferating across the store
  • How nutritional parity and higher protein products connect with the growing flexitarian shopper
  • Which categories are fueling the next wave of plant-based growth
  • How plant-based trends impact Supplements
  • Plus, What Plant-Based Innovations Mean for Your Business 

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