Plant-based diet boost for growers
New Zealand's horticulture industry stands to benefit from ongoing changes in worldwide eating trends.
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.”