Plant-Based, Seeds of Change. Part 2: Plant-Based Eating as a Permanent Shift

April 10, 2019
Consumer Flavor Ingredients Snacks Trends Health Plant-Based
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This is not one of the fad diets of yore, where dieters ate wheat germ and grapefruit for every meal. In decades past fad diets came and went, often based on certain plant foods that sounded good but soon grew tiresome. The recent movement toward plant-based could be easy to write off as a flash in the pan. But that would be a mistake. Our prediction? A move toward plant-based is here to stay. Let’s explore the main-streaming of the plant-based diet from the generational changes to the cross-category growth.

This is part 2 of our deep dive into plant-based eating. In part 1, we identified and explored the two avenues for plant-based products. Read part 1 here.


Today, plant-based eating is not only gaining ground among more consumers but seen as a permanent shift in eating, driven by a variety of factors and types of consumers. The only flash in the pan here is the crackle of a pan-seared seasoned tempeh or the sizzle of a burger formed with a blend of mushroom and beef. Millennials and Gen Z are driving this movement, while older consumers are embracing it as well because it aligns with their interest in healthy longevity & independence. The result? Consumers have opened the floodgates to flavor and product innovation.


It’s not a fad. Signs abound that plant-based eating, rooted in sustainability and health goals.
The quick facts that add up to a permanent shift:

  • Eight in 10 consumers have changed their diets to be healthier, with more than 39% increasing their consumption of fruits and vegetables.

  • More than a third (34%) of Americans plan to incorporate plant-based foods into their diets in 2019.

  • Bean burritos are the most popular food for GrubHub orders, rising 276% 2017-2018. Red meat didn’t make the top ten in GrubHub’s ordering data.

  • 18% of Americans consider themselves vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian or flexitarian. Among omnivores, 40% say they would eat a plant-based substitute for meat.

  • Sales of plant-based foods and beverages topped $3.7 billion the U.S. in the past year, up 17% from the previous year.

"Plant-based proteins are no longer just a meat replacement -- it’s now its own category."
- David Portalatin, NPD.


Farro Out: Back in the 1960s and early ‘70s, self-described hippies ate and celebrated vegetarian fare like alfalfa spouts and tofu. Vegetarian cafes sprouted up on college campuses and in hippie enclaves like Berkeley, Calif. or upstate New York.

So, this isn’t the first time that young people chart their own plant-based course and introduce others to a new way of eating. But one big difference between then and now is taste: today’s plant-based fare doesn’t make people feel like they are sacrificing something for a cause. Where there’s money and an active consumer base, there’s motivation to improve taste and texture.

As NPR’s “The Salt” pointed out: “Fifty years later, the trial and error of the ‘60s and ‘70s can seem far away, but so many of these foods are still around. They’ve just wriggled free of their once-smelly reputations.”


"Although vegan numbers are rising globally, this has not been the key factor in the growing interest in plant-based eating. Rather, it is the well-documented boom in the popularity of flexitarian diets that is fueling the mainstreaming of vegan products and the use of vegan-friendly certification." - Lu Ann Williams, Mintel.


Millennials haven’t invented this type of eating, but they sure are re-inventing it and spurring a broader change in attitudes and consumption of meatless or, for that matter, less-meat eating. Points out Fiona Dyer of GlobalData: “The shift toward plant-based foods is being driven by Millennials, who are most likely to consider the food source, animal welfare issues, and environmental impacts when making their purchasing decisions.”

In fact, 80% of millennials regularly purchase meat alternatives, compared to 50% of non-Millennials. Caucasian Millennials in particular are 47% more likely than the average U.S. consumer to incorporate plant-based foods, according to Nielsen.


Millennial parents are especially interested in plant-based eating, passing that interest along to Generation Z. The Millennial family tree sprouts noticeable growth for plant-based foods and beverages. Young families are looking for ways to provide their children (and themselves) with healthier choices and that includes more vegetable, fruits, legumes, seeds, nuts, etc. Milllennial parents are driving growth in non-dairy ice cream: According to Mintel, 21% of Millennial parents have purchased nondairy ice creams, twice the share of consumers in general.


Gen X and Baby Boomers also reveal a keen interest in plant-based eating. It aligns with their overall goals of independent and long-term health. But the demographic most interested in plant-based is Gen Z. Born 1996-2018, they are also growing up with plant-based eating as a norm – and therefore shaping the direction of the market. We mentioned in a recent report that Gen Z shoppers are concerned with socially-driven issues that impact food choices, like plant-based alternatives, sustainability, human labor, Fairtrade, packaging and food waste –aligning them perfectly with a more flexitarian lifestyle. In fact, GenZ consumes 57% more tofu and 550% more nondairy than Millennials according to Futurecast. Mintel points out that Gen Z feel more positively about non-dairy milk than cow’s milk.


Taste has a lot to do – okay, almost everything to do – with the likely staying power of plant-based eating. Plant-based proteins are often the main character, but flavor is the star of the show.
"If the products do not inspire tastiness on the package, they will not inspire trial. More importantly, if they do not taste good, consumers will not re-purchase them." - Patty Johnson, Mintel

Products of Note:

  • Dairy-Free Mango Pear FlaVor Oatgurt
    100% plant-based oat drink suitable for vegans.

36% of consumers polled said they’d possibly buy this product, significantly underperforming against subcategory.

  • Ben & Jerry’s Non-dairy ice cream
    Non-dairy plant-based ice creams that appeal to kids and their parents, especially Millennial parents who grew up noshing Ben & Jerry’s pints.

50% of consumers polled said they’d possibly buy this product, significantly outperforming against subcategory
  • Mann’s Nourish Bowls, Monterey Risotto
    A delicious warm meal with fresh veggies, rice and sauce. The product contains 310 calories per bowl and comprises butternut squash, kale, kohlrabi and brown rice with a creamy roasted garlic sauce.

22% of consumers polled said they'd possibly buy this product, significantly underperforming against subcategory

  • HIPPEAS Organic Chickpea Puffs In Sriacha Sunshine
    Packaged snack puffs made from chickpeas and available in Vegan White Cheddar, Bohemian Barbecue, and Sriacha Sunshine to lend flavor to the ground chickpea base. They are made by Green Park Snacks, Inc.

30% of consumers polled said they’d possibly buy this product, insignificantly underperforming against subcategory.

  • PigOut Pigless Bacon Chips
    Made by Outstanding Foods, these mushroom-based snacks have smoky, crispy taste of bacon and are available in original, cheddar, chipolte and Kansas City barbecue varieties.


Taste has helped propel certain plant-based products to not only be considered meat alternatives, but a regular addition to the rotation of proteins among many consumers.

One big case in point: the new class of burgers. Brands like Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger have a loyal, bordering on cult-like following among mainstream consumers and largely because they don’t taste like an also-ran when compared to traditional beef burgers. Plant-based burgers fast facts:

  • Plant-based burgers represent the largest plant-based foodservice category and shown double digit growth year over year. (NPD)

  • 63% of U.S. shoppers say they would maybe or definitely purchase blended meat and plant items. (FMI.)

  • 28% of consumers who eat burgers away from home agree that more restaurants should offer vegetarian burgers.

  • Burger King’s newest introduction is a plant-based whopper. The burger is made in partnership with Impossible Foods with patties made from heme (a soy protein.) White Castle and Carl’s Jr. (using a Beyond Meat variety) already have meatless burgers on the menu. Can’t get more mainstream than that!

"Now, with plant-based everything no longer being on the fringe trend, every restaurant operator – whether ‘s a premium fast casual or a fast food chain – has to evaluate how it can cater to various dietary needs and preferences." - Mintel

The Takeaways

As plant-based foods branch out, the roots are getting stronger. Given the plant-based eating preferences among Millennials and Gen Z consumers and growing interest among other demographic groups in eating more plant-based foods, this is a movement, not just a trend. The change staying power that will impact product formulations and developments across a range of foods and beverages, from alternatives to animal-based proteins to unique new plant-based items. Flavor is a key to the success of these products, particularly with products that have a strong protein base. What once caused kids in previous generations to crinkle up their nose may make kids today post pics of them savoring it on social media.

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Sources in full report