Plant-based diet boost for grow­ers

New Zealand's hor­ti­cul­ture in­dus­try stands to ben­e­fit from on­go­ing changes in world­wide eat­ing trends.

NZ Grower - - Contents - By Dr Rosie Bos­worth

Gone are the days of taste­less meat and dairy sub­sti­tutes in the do­main of hip­pies and ac­tivists. Over the re­cent years, plant-based eat­ing – or ve­g­an­ism - has made clear in­roads into the main­stream. And it is show­ing no signs of slow­ing down.

In 2017 and 2018, ve­gan, plant-based and flex­i­tar­ian (mostly plant-based but with some meat) di­ets were named key mega­trends by nu­mer­ous in­dus­try re­ports and com­men­ta­tors in­clud­ing Forbes, The Guardian, Min­tel and Rabobank. New York-based restau­rant con­sul­tancy group, Baum + White­man, sug­gests plant-based foods will be­come the new or­ganic in the com­ing years.

It’s an ex­cit­ing space to be in if you are in the busi­ness of grow­ing, breed­ing or sell­ing high qual­ity plant-based food like fruit, veg­eta­bles and pro­tein­rich plants.

The ex­plod­ing plant-based life­styles mar­ket is an area New Zealand’s glob­ally rep­utable hor­ti­cul­tural in­dus­try stands to gain a lot from. Whether it’s grow­ing or breed­ing high qual­ity fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles for the world or de­vel­op­ing and re­search­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of plant-based pro­tein in­no­va­tions.

Niki Bezzant, New Zealand food and nu­tri­tion writer be­lieves this coun­try grows some of the best plant-based food in the world.

“Our veg­eta­bles and fruit are world class,” she said.

“We’re never go­ing to feed the world; but per­haps we can of­fer a pre­mium prod­uct to a small part of it.”

Search data in the last four years, from Google Trends, in­di­cates that New Zealand - along­side Is­rael, Aus­tralia, Canada, Aus­tria – is one of the lead­ing re­gions, that has demon­strated sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­est in ve­g­an­ism and plant-based di­ets. There are 13 per­cent of New Zealan­ders aged be­tween 13 and 34 who now de­scribe them­selves as veg­e­tar­i­ans, up 50 per­cent be­tween 2011 and 2015.

Aus­tralia, New Zealand’s largest hor­ti­cul­tural ex­port des­ti­na­tion, is the now third-fastest grow­ing ve­gan mar­ket in the world, with food prod­ucts car­ry­ing a ve­gan or plant-based claim ris­ing by 92 per­cent be­tween 2014 and 2016. And re­search pre­dicts that in China, a sig­nif­i­cant hor­ti­cul­tural ex­port mar­ket for this coun­try, the plant­based mar­ket will grow more than 17 per­cent be­tween 2015 and 2020.

Grow­ing in­ter­est in plant-based eat­ing has also be­ing shaped by the now ex­plod­ing plant-based meat sub­sti­tute mar­ket, where global sales are poised to grow to US$4.2 bil­lion by 2022 ac­cord­ing to In­nova Mar­ket In­sights. In­gre­di­ents used for plant­based meat sub­sti­tutes en­com­passes an ar­ray of veg­eta­bles and grains de­rived pro­tein in­clud­ing pea, potato, rice and wheat as well as tra­di­tional sources like soy.

Plant-based meat com­pa­nies in­clud­ing US-based Im­pos­si­ble Foods and Beyond Meat as well as New Zealand’s Sun­fed Meats are al­ready gain­ing fast mo­men­tum and mar­ket trac­tion, and many more start ups through­out the US, Europe, Asia and the Pa­cific are emerg­ing as the plant-based life­style con­sumer revo­lu­tion con­tin­ues.

“As more and more Ki­wis at least at­tempt to live a veg­e­tar­ian life­style, it will be­come in­creas­ingly im­por­tant for a range of busi­nesses—from su­per­mar­kets and their sup­pli­ers, to takeaway and fast food out­lets—to un­der­stand this group,” said John La Rosa, gen­eral man­ager client ser­vices of mar­ket re­search com­pany, Roy Mor­gan Re­search. It con­ducted a study into the rise of veg­e­tar­i­an­ism in 2016.

Bal­loon­ing con­sumer in­ter­est in health, sus­tain­abil­ity, en­vi­ron­men­tal concerns and ethics have been key driv­ers spurring the ris­ing pop­u­lar­ity of plant-based in­gre­di­ents and prod­ucts.

“There’s lit­tle doubt that di­ets that are rich in plant-based foods are best for health,” said Bezzant.

Nu­mer­ous clin­i­cal stud­ies from lead­ing univer­si­ties through­out the world in­di­cate that ad­her­ing to a whole food, low fat plant-based diet is one of the health­i­est di­ets to fol­low for good health. Ben­e­fits in­clude in­creased weight loss, lower mor­tal­ity rates, im­proved in­sulin sen­si­tiv­ity and choles­terol and the re­ver­sal of type 2 di­a­betes di­ag­no­sis.

“Fruit and veg­eta­bles have been shown to re­duce choles­terol lev­els, blood pres­sure, and to boost the health of our blood ves­sels and im­mune sys­tem,” said Dr Dagfinn Aune, lead au­thor of re­search from the School of Pub­lic Health at Im­pe­rial Col­lege of Lon­don which an­a­lysed the ef­fect of a “5+A Day” diet.

Con­sumers are also in­creas­ingly drawn to sig­nif­i­cant en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits of plant-based di­ets ver­sus an­i­mal agri­cul­ture.

“Com­pared with us­ing cows to pro­duce beef, our process uses one twen­ti­eth of the land, a quar­ter of the wa­ter, and it is fun­da­men­tally a lot less ex­pen­sive,” said Dr Pat Brown, chief ex­ec­u­tive and founder of Im­pos­si­ble Foods, a Cal­i­for­nia-based start up, de­vel­op­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of meats and cheeses made en­tirely from plants. These in­clude the Im­pos­si­ble burger, fea­tur­ing a plant-based meat that bleeds and is now be­ing served on pre­mium Air New Zealand flights.

De­spite health ben­e­fits and the surge of con­sumers in­creas­ingly opt­ing in for plant-based al­ter­na­tives, some food in­dus­try ad­vo­cates think plant-based food needs to be ap­proached with cau­tion. Bezzant said they are of­ten highly pro­cessed foods.

“They have many in­gre­di­ents and can have high lev­els of sodium,” she said.

“I think there are many other in­ter­est­ing, plant-based, whole food dishes I’d rather eat than a faux meat dish.”

Even with these po­ten­tial risks, it’s clear that early movers pro­vid­ing qual­ity, sus­tain­able and healthy plant­based food prod­ucts, in­gre­di­ents and prod­ucts that meet new con­sumer needs are set to cap­i­talise on the next global plant-based food revo­lu­tion.

“It can seem a bit fad­dish - in par­tic­u­lar some of the non-meat meats, but I think it will con­tinue,” Bezzant said.

“It’s part of a broader, over­ar­ch­ing trend of peo­ple want­ing more whole foods. We are drawn now to food that’s in its nat­u­ral state, or as close as pos­si­ble to it. On top of that there’s also a strong eth­i­cal and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cern driv­ing this.”

Dr Hans Mau­rer, chair of United Fresh’s tech­ni­cal ad­vi­sory group, said the fu­ture for New Zealand’s fruit and veg­etable in­dus­try looks bright in light of the in­creas­ing global de­mand for plant-based cen­tre-of-plate meal so­lu­tions.

“The in­dus­try’s abil­ity to re­alise the po­ten­tial is linked though to an ar­ray of com­ple­men­tary fac­tors that in­clude the need to re­tain prime agri­cul­tural land in pro­duc­tion; get­ting se­ri­ous about al­ter­na­tives such as ur­ban farm­ing of se­lected crops and grow­ing our ca­pac­ity for in­no­va­tive food so­lu­tions fo­cused re­search,” he said.

“We also need to at­tract suf­fi­cient in­vest­ment cap­i­tal to fund the mar­ket en­try of plant based meat-sub­sti­tute prod­ucts; cre­at­ing com­pelling mar­ket­ing strate­gies that com­bine New Zealand’s ex­ist­ing com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tages with new meal so­lu­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties; and, de­vel­op­ing a highly com­pe­tent and ed­u­cated work­force that can turn the iden­ti­fied op­por­tu­ni­ties into re­al­ity.”

Dr Rosie Bos­worth is a fu­ture food and agri­cul­ture ex­pert.

“We're never go­ing to feed the world; but per­haps we can of­fer a pre­mium prod­uct to a small part of it.”

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