Plant-based proteins dominated the food and beverage landscape in 2019—driving new product introductions and overall industry buzz. As food companies look for ways to keep pace with the rapidly expanding and evolving market, ADM has identified key trends that will drive innovation and growth in the plant-based protein space in 2020 and beyond.

“The plant-based food and beverage movement has been gaining momentum over the past 12-months, and this is going to be another breakout year for the category,” said Kurt Long, director of Flexitarian Solutions, ADM. “We expect to see even more new and enhanced protein options hit the shelves in the coming months, and to get an edge in this growing space, manufacturers have to respond quickly with on-trend products. This is an area where ADM is ready and eager to help. We look forward to helping our customers drive advancements in the space through new and innovative products.”

ADM’s OutsideVoice Protein Perception & Awareness Study recently revealed that 44 percent of U.S. consumers now identify as flexitarian. Motivated primarily by health, wellness and sustainability, this powerful group drives demand for foods and beverages with plant-based proteins. These motivations, coupled with expectations for exceptional flavor and product variety, are shaping 2020 trends in the plant-based protein category. These trends include:  

  • Protein alone is not enough

While plant-based, front-of-package claims used to focus on the number of protein grams per serving, in 2020, consumers will be looking for more. “Protein Plus” is the name of the game, and in order to play, manufacturers must expand nutritional benefits with function-forward health features, like added fiber, antioxidants, probiotics and vitamins. These functional benefits don’t just drive demand; they also command a higher price point. Research shows consumers are willing to pay a premium for products higher in protein, fiber, whole grains and vitamins.

  • Nutrition matters, but taste rules

Research shows that while consumers are drawn to plant-based proteins for their nutritional benefits, they won’t fully incorporate products into their repertoires if they don’t deliver on taste and texture. This is the year to expect more products to be formulated with plant-based blends—such as soy or pea combined with beans, seeds or ancient grains—to deliver the craveable flavor that consumers demand. While formulating with the right proteins is a must in 2020, exceptional flavor will be driven by true culinary expertise. 

  • Meaty innovations

Burgers led the plant-based protein craze in 2019, but in the coming year, new proteins will start to take center stage. Already, the market is seeing an increase in alternatives to chicken, sausage and even seafood. Because taste matters, the key to success with these new products is achieving a flavor and texture similar to their animal-based inspirations.

  • Keep it clean

Sixty percent of consumers say recognizable ingredients influence their purchase decision, and 66 percent say they are looking for labels with the shortest ingredient list. In 2020, these numbers are likely to rise, meaning successful plant-based formulations must have shorter, more familiar ingredient lists that rely only on all-natural ingredient sources such as beans, lentils, whole legumes, quinoa, amaranth and sorghum.

  • Dairy alternatives grow

Expect to see continued plant-based innovation in the dairy case, building on the momentum of the past few years. Retail sales of plant-based cheese have already grown 19 percent; plant-based ice cream and novelties have grown 27 percent; and plant-based yogurt has grown an impressive 39 percent*. While growth has been prevalent in the space, there is significant opportunity for formulators to leverage improved flavor and texture of products to drive even wider consumer interest in the year ahead.   

  • There’s even more in store brands

Private-label brands have achieved significant growth with organic and natural products. Eighty-five percent of consumers say they trust private labels, and 81 percent say they purchase private-label products on every shopping trip. This is a space that’s primed for plant-based products to drive even more growth.

  • Comfort is king

As meat analogs become more common, a growing opportunity in the plant-based category will be comfort food. Consumers—especially those with children—will be looking for plant-based versions of family-friendly foods, including chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, and pizza.