The plant-based sector has a bright future

By Shen Siung Wong, director of global applications at Tate & Lyle

According to the United Nations, plant-based foods generally use less energy, land and water, and have lower greenhouse gas intensities than animal-based foods. We also know that 46% of the planet’s habitable land is devoted to agriculture, 77% of which is used for livestock (meat and dairy) including for grazing and feed.

As the role of diet continues to become an area of focus in the climate conversation, leading food and drink companies are adapting their portfolios to add new plant-based products, while switching out animal-derived ingredients from existing favourites. This is one of the themes we explore in our new sustainability article series “Protecting Planet and People through Ingredient Innovation” — as we set out some of the ways that ingredient companies such as Tate & Lyle are supporting food and drink businesses to operate more sustainably, and how efforts are being received by consumers.

We are seeing that the growing global interest in plant-based products can, in part, be attributed to growing concern around sustainability, although health and wellness remains more influential as a purchase driver for most. Many consumers view the consumption of plant-based products as a means of supporting their health goals, as shown from the rise in popularity of the flexitarian diet since the 1990s. Meeting these consumer needs and preferences is the challenge that companies, including the brands we work with, are working to address, while recognising that first and foremost, people want great tasting food and drink. Consumer research shows, time and time again, that taste is the number one driver of purchases.

While trying to deliver on these product attributes, companies in most global markets (including many in Asia) are facing global shortages of animal-derived commodities exacerbated by events like COVID-19 and the supply chain disruptions that followed, as well as the need for affordability.

With spiralling inflation hitting many economies worldwide, cost optimisation projects with customers are increasing as brands try to minimise price increases for consumers. There are also availability challenges, such as the low supply of eggs caused by avian flu in countries such as Japan. With our extensive ingredient application know-how and category specialist experience, we know that often a plant-based ingredient solution can meet consumers’ expectations at a lower cost while still delivering an extraordinary end-product.

Here in Asia — more so than in most other parts of the world — plant-based diets have been established for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. For this reason, although meat consumption has rocketed in many markets in the region, arguably a switch to plant-rich diets to help tackle the climate crisis will require less of an adjustment from consumers here. Plant-based proteins like seitan and tofu are already familiar tastes and household staples for many. Chickpea has been a key ingredient in diets in India for centuries, much like soybean in Chinese cuisine. At Tate & Lyle, we believe the future is bright for the plant-based sector. The pace of innovation in recent years has been phenomenal, with an increase in launches of plant-based food and drink; here in Asia Pacific, there has been a compound annual growth rate of 28% between 2017 and 2022.

Read the full article here.