10 Exciting New Plant-Based Products Hitting Shelves This Year

Plant-based foods are one of the food industry's top-selling items. Here are a few of this year's trends, from "meatier" meat to plant-based seafood.

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The term “plant-based” can be a confusing one. When it comes to food, it has been used a lot to describe meat substitutes but is also used much more widely. At the same time, eating a “plant-based diet” means eating mostly fruits and vegetables, and reducing consumption of animal products, but without having to commit in full to vegetarianism or veganism in your eating or lifestyle practices. In all their forms, plant-based foods are continuing to trend in the food industry, and they are popular among vegans and nonvegans alike.

Plant-based eating is associated with many health benefits but lacks the ideological meaning of veganism and vegetarianism. Veganism is a way for individuals to take action for animal rights, workers’ rights, and the environment, and is about far more than healthy eating or even diet. 

Why Is Plant-Based Trending?

The internet has played an important role in making plant-based eating a popular trend. With on-demand video, social media, and vegan bloggers, information about the purpose and benefits of vegan lifestyles became more accessible than before, particularly to younger generations.

Distributing content online from animal rights activists and nongovernmental organizations, culture jammers have produced campaigns that educated the public about the harms of factory farming. For example, “The Meatrix” in 2003 criticized animal agriculture and had garnered more than 20 million views by 2008. 

Entertainment and media companies have also produced a series of documentaries on the commercial production of food: “Cowspiracy,” “Food Inc.” and “Forks over Knives” are just a few. Video-streaming platforms such as Netflix and YouTube made it easy for people to access this information about the problems caused by the meat and dairy industries, including environmental, health, and animal welfare issues. 

Vloggers and bloggers also had a vital role in promoting plant-based eating among consumer communities. YouTube channels like Cheap Lazy Vegan and Hot for Food refreshed the image of veganism, helped to create a community online, and gave people a source of information and advice.

Efforts by vegan and animal rights organizations to encourage consumers to eat vegan for short periods of time have also spread the trend of plant-based eating. Cities, countries, and celebrities have been enlisted to establish public support for the pledges. Activists have also organized vegan fairs and festivals that give consumers a place to interact with veganism in a fun and joyful atmosphere. 

Significant marketing of vegan and plant-based products has helped businesses attract and retain consumers when providing meat and dairy substitutes, or entire meal options, at restaurants. Companies and community-based organizations alike have used social media to spread their messages and engage their audiences. 

When Did the Plant-Based Trend Start?   

In Google Trends, which traces search term popularity since 2004, the trend for “plant-based” begins taking off in around 2016. That is also the year that the Plant-Based Foods Association was set up—a trade association founded by Michele Simon to express collective business interests among a new wave of companies making plant-based food products. While it is unclear what led to the spikes in interest in the term “plant-based” from the late 2010s through the 2020s, in a podcast interview with Errol Schweizer, Simon credits a long line of activists who came before her along with other industry leaders in helping to make “plant-based” a widely accepted, mainstream norm in the food industry. 

T. Colin Campbell is credited with coining the term in 1980 as a way to describe a vegetable-based diet that is low-fat, high-fiber, and which would work as a cancer treatment strategy. Campbell writes that he was looking for an objective and clear way to describe vegan or strict-vegetarian diets without evoking the highly-charged emotions that are often associated with the existing terms. 

Plant-Based Trends 2022

The term “plant-based” has come to signal more than just eating fruits and vegetables from the produce aisle. The term is now used—and some would say co-opted—by companies seeking to give a health halo to highly-processed food products.

According to a Vegetarian Times interview with SPINS market analyst Scott Dicker, the plant-based food industry has at least six trends to watch this year, listed below. The last four items on this list are from “11 Plant-Based and Alternative Protein Trends to Watch for in 2022,” by Brian Kateman. 

1. “Meatier” Plant-Based Meat

Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger led the way in the mid-to-late 2010s by establishing competing vegan burger patties that highly resembled ground beef in a way that no other veggie burger had done before. The meat-like burgers promised an easier transition to plant-based diets by offering a juicy, tasty fast-food option for newly converted vegans or vegans tired of existing options for veggie burgers. According to Dicker, with their continued success, “more brands are getting into the mix.”

2. Veggie Products Promising “Nutritional Parity”

The idea behind nutritional parity is that consumers who are new to eating plant-based foods can be convinced to purchase a meat or dairy substitute, according to Dicker, if they are reassured that they will not be losing any nutritional benefits that they might have had from eating meat or dairy. 

3. “Clean Label” and Organic

The “clean label” and organic-oriented shopper is not necessarily the same as the plant-based food shopper, but a common thread seems to be that consumers are increasingly choosing labels that are clear and help choices about the environment, human health, and the working conditions under which products are made. Food Empowerment Project’s chocolate list and Equal Exchange’s fair trade standards offer examples of worker justice initiatives that are not traditionally considered plant-based fare but that might fit into this trend category. 

4. Plant-Based Seafood

In the same way that meatier meat substitutes are popular for former meat-eaters, the call for plant-based fish substitutes is still strong. Plant-based seafood can include fake shrimp, fish fillets, and tuna salad. 

5. Expansion Into Every Grocery Aisle

The push for plant-based food is expected to grow in new categories beyond, meat, dairy and natural foods. Examples include snacks and “canned oat milk lattes,” according to Dicker. Animal-free baking ingredients such as sugar and chocolate, and condiments such as ranch dressing or mayo are examples of this trend. 

6. Less Separation Between “Regular” and “Natural” Food Categories

As plant-based food products expand to every aisle in the grocery store, the boundary between the natural food aisle and the rest of the store will be increasingly blurred. 

7. Vegan Butter

Kateman writes that vegan butter brand Miyoko’s Creamery won a major battle against big dairy in federal court in 2021. This win means that vegan milk and butter brands will be able to keep calling their products milk and butter, and will have more “breathing room to experiment with new products, ingredients, and marketing strategies.”

8. Veggie-Friendly Food Service

More national restaurant chains such as Long John Silver’s, Panda Express, Little Caesars, and Burger King have begun partnering with meat substitute companies such as Field Roast and Beyond Meat to increase their vegan and plant-based menu offerings. Kateman writes that animal-free fast foods will hit the road at a greater rate than in recent years. 

9. Healthier Plant-Based Meats

Though Beyond Meat may not fit the bill for a “clean label” product, as described above, its makers are responding to consumer demand by making burgers that have less fat. Kateman predicts that more brands will be revealing healthier versions of their highly processed meat substitutes.

10. Veggie-Meat Hybrid Foods

Meat companies are stuffing their burgers and patties with vegetable fillers for people seeking to reduce their meat intake. Kateman writes about a line of chicken nuggets that combines “chicken with a blend of plants like chickpeas and cauliflower.” 

What Do Plant-Based Consumers Want? 

Plant-based consumers are typically looking for tasty food options as they seek to permanently lower their meat intake. Behind this search are desires to improve their personal health and to avoid supporting industrial farming practices that are harmful to animals and to the environment—including a concern about climate change. 

These ethical concerns are connected to broader social justice themes that can be framed as a desire for food system change. Errol Schweizer, former Vice President of Operations at Whole Foods, who helped usher a wave of conscious consumers into the mainstream, has described such customers as supporting “diverse, socially, ethically motivated companies that treat their employees well and were committed to a healthier food system.”

What You Can Do

People eating plant-based diets can be easily excited by fun, shiny new foods prepared by other people in manufacturing facilities or commercial kitchens and bakeries. But the tastiest food is not always ready-made. 

If you’re into learning new things, you can become a decent cook by trying your hand at preparing your own meals. Plant-based cooking can start with stocking your refrigerator and pantry with legumes, beans, grains, fruits and vegetables that are closest to their originally harvested form.

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