What’s Really Going on in the Plant-Based Foods Category

When food historians look back and write the story on plant-based foods, the years 2022 and 2023 will be notable chapters. There’s been a plot twist, and the once booming category has met a classic antagonist character: indifference.

Consumers haven’t revolted against plant-based meat alternatives. They’ve just lost interest.

But there’s more to the story. While plant-based meats are struggling, plant-based milks, ice creams and comfort foods are reporting impressive gains.

How do you explain the divergent paths of each category in 2022, and how does it impact product developers working on new product products in 2023 and beyond? Bluegrass has the answers!


What Happened to Plant-Based Meat Sales?

The launch of the Impossible burger thrust plant-based meat alternatives into restaurants around the world. Consumer reaction was positive, sales boomed and countless new brands emerged to vie for space in the competitive retail marketplace. COVID came, sales continued to boom…until they didn’t. Growth stopped in 2021 and the category experienced measurable declines in 2022. Why?

Without a craveable product, consumers lost interest in a meat mimic that was more expensive and contained way more ingredients than the real thing.

Why it Matters to R&D:

Focus product development on products that add protein but don’t mimic cuts of meats. Global cuisine is a good source of inspiration, but remember to always add a familiar flavor profile such as fruit or plant-based dairy flavors to lessen purchasing obstacles.


Plant-Based Milk Rises to Top

On the opposite side of the spectrum, plant-based milk sales show no signs of slowing. These products have clean labels and more importantly, they are not trying to mimic dairy milk. Oat milk doesn’t taste like cow’s milk, nor is it trying to. It’s its own thing and offers product developers and baristas the opportunity to create new flavor profiles, not just mimic what’s currently available.

Why it Matters to R&D:

The downside to the popularity of oat milk is a strained oat market that’s trying to keep up with demand. Fortunately, Bluegrass Ingredients has a strong and stable supply of oat milk powder, which can replace liquid oat milk in many applications.


A Return to Comfort Foods

Remember when trend experts predicted that the COVID pandemic would be the tipping point for Americans to start eating healthier? Quite the opposite happened. Sales of Oreos and Ding Dongs boomed as consumers retreated back to the comfort foods they remembered eating when life was simpler. Now that society is normalizing again, consumers want it all: Healthy foods that maintain their indulgence.

Why it Matters to R&D:

Developing permissibly indulgent plant-based foods while still maintaining a clean label is hard, but not impossible. Plant-based macaroni and cheese represents a great platform to create comforting plant-based foods. Our R&D has perfected plant-based cheese powders and can help your food brand rapidly prototype a new product that satisfies consumer cravings.


Despite the ups and downs in the plant-based space, we expect the category to find its footing. Our Agile Ingredient Innovation® Model was designed to help companies thrive in unstable markets. Contact us to get started on your next plant-based innovation.

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