Eric Woods discusses the surge in consumer demand for plant-based meat free products and how seafood-alternatives will be the next frontier in vegan and plant-based food

There has never been more of a demand for plant-based products. With the UK plant-based market valued at £443m in 2018 it is fast becoming one of the leaders in meat and dairy alternatives.

As Veganism hits mainstream retailers, boosted by initiatives like ‘Veganuary’ and ‘Meat-free Monday’, even meat eaters are now reducing their animal protein intake and consumption of animal by-products. As more and more consumers wake up to the impact their diets can have on both health and the environment, meat-free alternatives and dairy-free alternatives have driven the rise in flexitarian and plant-based lifestyles.

Both meat-free and dairy-free options have already been firmly placed in the shopping baskets of mindful consumers and as the demand for plant-based products grows, so does the variety available. If new products entering the market are anything to go by, fish-free products are set the be the next big thing for 2019. In a consumer research survey commissioned by Loma Linda and carried out by Omnisis, more than 80 per cent of non-meat-eaters, and 75 per cent of meat eaters showed interest in purchasing fish free products, with more than half stating that being better for the world’s oceans is a key driver.

Through a combination of consumers being willing to step further out of their meat-eating comfort zones and becoming aware of overfishing and concerns associated with fish farms, plant-based seafood alternatives are looking to be a lucrative investment for retailers.

Embracing the trends
According to Mintel, in 2018, one in six food product launches had a vegan or animal-free recipe claim, more than double from 2015. With more products available than ever before, retailers need to make sure they keep up with and more importantly differentiate themselves from the competition to avoid falling into the abyss of plant-based product launches.

In February, supermarket Sainsburys made a bold move, signifying the scale of demand for plant-based foods. With a keen eye on its shoppers’ preferences, Sainsburys cleverly built on findings from a London School of Economics experiment which saw restaurant sales of vegetarian items double when moved from the vegetarian section to the main menu.

The supermarket recently replicated this, announcing a new meat-alternative section in its meat, fish and poultry aisles, a first for UK supermarkets and a significant move for suppliers of meat and fish alternatives. But the position of the product in grocery stores doesn’t automatically mean consumers will buy it, with more brands bringing plant-based products to the market, newcomers and disrupter brands, need to show they are new, innovative and forward thinking, ensuring they remain relevant, fresh and exciting.

When meat alternatives first started to gain popularity, consumers wanted straight forward meat replacements such as vegetarian bacon or chicken pieces, but with more options now becoming available, meat-free food trends are diversifying to offer more exciting options. Last year saw new products come to the market that highlight this trend such as the M&S Sweet Potato and Red Pepper Sausage, Quorn’s new Spinach and Red Pepper Slices and not forgetting Gregg’s vegan sausage rolls.

As with meat alternatives, seafood alternatives are likely to go through a similar process and we predict these types of products will be the next frontier in vegan and ‘free-from’ foods, with many retailers likely to invest in new bringing new plant-based seafood products to their consumers.

Ethical consumers and environmental concerns
There is no doubt that there is a direct correlation in the demand for meat alternatives with the increased awareness of animal agriculture’s environmental footprint.

This focus on environmental concerns is even more prevalent when it comes to seafood. It is well documented that 90 per cent of global fish stocks are either over fished or fully depleted and it is this narrative, which has driven the race to find a suitable plant-based seafood alternative which is good for the environment, nutritious and tastes as close as possible to the real thing.

Oceans serve as the planets largest source of protein and are accountable for around 40 per cent of animal products consumed. With stocks rapidly depleting, factory-farmed fish first emerged as more sustainable option but consumers are now realising that reducing fish consumption all together, can be better for the environment.

Costly and time-consuming farmed fish is no longer good enough for the ethical consumer who wants to stay away from this animal product all together. It’s now up to retailers to offer more alternatives that address overfishing, as well as meeting the demand from non-meat-eaters who enjoy the taste and texture of fish products.

Bringing the next frontier to market
Innovation in plant-based products give people more choice without having to compromise on taste and nutrients. As we’ve seen, the next frontier for plant-based products will be seafood alternatives. Vegan seafood has been an untapped market until now, but with products such as Loma Linda’s plant-based TUNO coming to the market, it will help drive further adoption of the vegan lifestyle and help challenge conceptions on meat and fish consumption, showing you don’t need these to have a rich, nutrient dense diet.

TUNO has been carefully created with the ethical consumer and environmental sustainability in mind. Working in collaboration with seafood industry experts from around the world to help address the growing crisis of global fish stocks being overfished and depleted, TUNO offers a delicious and ocean safe product that tastes similar to real tuna while providing its versatility in a more sustainable form.

Demand for TUNO in the US has been high, with top retailers listing the products in store and the brand hopes to replicate this success as it launches in the UK later this year.

A final thought….
The adoption of plant-based diets is only going to grow, so plant-based products need to be a key part of retailer’s buying and marketing strategies, ensuring their range is diverse, fresh and backed up with quality ingredients, ready to meet increasing consumer demand.

Eric Woods is Managing Director at Worldwide Food Associates (WFA), a progressive, innovative importer and distributor that successfully launches and develops FMCG brands in the highly competitive UK and European retail markets. WFA works with brands such as Street Kitchen, Passage Foods and Celebrate Health and is bringing US brand Loma Linda’s seafood alternative TUNO to market in the UK in 2019.