Plant-based protein at a crossroads, where to next?

Despite a promising start, plant-based brands are facing troubles in maintaining a keen and consistent consumer base. Mario Braz de Matos, co-founder and managing partner at Flying Fish Lab, elaborates on why, and how these brands can distinguish themselves in the road ahead.

The 21st century witnessed a boost in the search for alternative food sources, one of which is plant-based protein. It was once a dazzling newcomer welcomed with excitement from consumers, notably with the likes of the Beyond Burger, or Impossible Burger included in fast food chains’ menus. Consumers were curious about its taste, while recent vegetarians and vegans found it more feasible as a protein option.

Asia, known for a variety of plant-based diets owing to its large Buddhist population, as well as many products made out of soy and wheat gluten such as tempeh or seitan, has always had greater relevance in the plant-based protein market. The region’s investment in the plant-based protein industry reached a total funded capital of US$372m in 2022. Meanwhile, the US saw exponential growth within the alternative-to-meat sector with billions in valuation, largely as a result of big players like Beyond Meat’s victorious public entry in 2019.

Just a passing consumer trend?

These numbers were indicators of a brighter outlook for the sector. Yet, fast forward to the end of 2023 and plant-based protein brands are finding themselves at a juncture. The overwhelming rage for fake meat stopped growing as soaring global inflation and rising living costs changed consumers’ priorities and preferences. An example of this dichotomy is the stark contrast between the first bullish market gains and the recent struggles of Beyond Meat, reporting a 30% drop in sales after its hype.

While the industry is projected to be valued at over $19bn in 2028 globally, its swift initial up and down has created some scepticism among stakeholders. The question now is whether this downturn is a temporary blip or indicative of a more systemic issue. As stakeholders and investors watch closely, the plant-based protein industry stands at a crossroads, with its subsequent direction holding big implications for its future.

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