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Surging demand for plant-based and sustainable foods whets investor appetites

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Pret A Manger’s plans to buy rival Eat and turn the chain's 94 stores into vegetarian outlets illustrates the surging demand for plant-based and sustainable foods, according to Ecovia Intelligence. We spoke to the research company ahead of the Sustainable Foods Summit, which it will stage in Amsterdam on 13-14 June, about the plant-based food trends currently whetting investor appetites.

As the global trend for meat consumption increases, Britons are changing their diets to eating less meat, noted Sainsbury’s recent Future of Trends report. Flexitarians, or those actively reducing their meat consumption, make up a fifth of Britons. Vegetarians accounted for an eighth. Vegans were still in the minority at around 600,000 in the UK.

However, the report predicted that with the rise of an ecologically aware new generation, driven by health concerns and environmental determination, vegetarians (including vegans) will make up a quarter of British people in 2025, and flexitarians just under half of all UK consumers.

Meat alternatives are going mainstream
Ecovia believed that 2019 would be the year that plant-based products become mainstream in the food industry. As well as Pret A Manger’s plans, it noted the fast-food operators are also investing in meatless products.

“McDonald’s recently launched the Big Vegan TS, a vegan burger, in the German market. The fast-food chain has already been selling its McVegan burger in Nordic countries,” it said. “Burger King has launched a meatless Whopper in the US market. Chick-fil-A, another fast-food operator, is also exploring vegan options, whilst Taco Bell has introduced vegan tacos at selected London outlets this month.”

Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, has recently launched its Garden Gourmet Incredible Burger in Europe, it continued.

“Made from soya and wheat protein, it uses vegetable extracts to give the burger a meaty texture. It is planning to launch the meatless burger under the Sweet Earth brand in the US later this year. America’s largest meat company Tyson Foods is also preparing to launch its first meat-free product.”

Investment pouring into plant-based food
Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, meanwhile, were examples of the type of investment being given to plant-based food companies to help them scale production and keep up with demand.

California-based Beyond Meat floated its shares on the Nasdaq stock exchange ear
Founded by Heather Mills, who claimed going vegan helped her recover after losing a leg in a motorcycle accident in 1993, it now has 140 meat-free, dairy-free and fish-free products, and exports to 24 countries.

The Northamptonshire-based company recently announced the acquisition of its third factory in Newcastle, creating around 300 jobs on the site of former Walkers Crisps factory. Mills recently told FoodNavigator that the decision was in part driven by a booming plant-based market. “After 25 years of trying to educate people the future is plant based, they are finally listening,” she said. “After the huge sales of hundreds of millions of pounds in American plant-based companies, corporates are now interested.”

VBites has also invested in related vegan businesses, such as Onist and One Planet Pizza.

Grabbing the ‘mindshare’ of mainstream consumers
Mills will share her personal journey to veganism and the company’s vision in her keynote address at the European edition of the Sustainable Foods Summit.

“She believes the future of sustainable foods is with plant-based products, and the key to future growth is higher adoption rates. She will also give insights into how VBites is gaining market share by grabbing ‘mindshare’ of mainstream consumers,” said Ecovia.

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