The Plant-Based Food Trends We Expect to See in 2021

It's not about giving up meat completely.

December 01, 2020
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Photo by: vaaseenaa/Getty Images

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This October at the fully-virtual Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo, nutrition experts and food and beverage market researchers teamed up to discuss how plant-based food trends continue to evolve. These experts also spoke to whether or not many popular plant-based foods on the market are actually good for you. Here's what you need to know about plant-based foods and diets in the future.

Plant-Based Dieting Is Still Going Strong

It may come as no surprise that plant-based trend is still going strong but Darren Seifer, Executive Director, and Food and Beverage Industry Analyst at The NPD Group, Inc. shared some surprising data. Folks shopping for plant-based food and beverage items are ideally looking for “substitution without sacrifice” – meaning, they expect plant-based burgers to taste like meat and other alternatives should mimic their traditional counterparts. To add to this tall order, this type of consumer also expects these alternatives to offer better nutrition. Despite these desires, consumer are encouraged to check the nutrient info on these foods since many can be more processed than expected and also contain high amounts of sugar, sodium and unhealthy fats. Read this article on the oh-so popular Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers to see what we mean.

Experts also explained that food companies may steer clear of using the term “vegan” as the desired emphasis for this type of consumer isn’t about no meat or veganism but more about capitalizing on health benefits from eating plants.

A Flexitarian Lifestyle Gives Consumers the Best of Both Worlds

Along lines of not calling these foods vegan, consumers are also not ready to give up meat and other animal-based foods. Another fascinating characteristic of today’s plant-based food consumer is that they want BOTH! NPD data found that the majority of plant-based consumers are millennials and Gen X and of these large groups, 16% regularly use plant-based alternatives. The shocker is that 90% of them also consume meat and dairy products. To put it simply: We want it all. The term coined for this evolving trend of eating plant-based while also making room to be an occasional carnivore is “flexitarian.” Flexing your diet this way actually been around for a while and the Flexitarian Diet ranked #2 on the U.S. News and World Report list of best diets. Like most hot diet trends, we will continue to see more and more foods supporting this concept in year ahead.

The Plant-Based Products You'll See More of in 2021

Plant-Based Beverages

When it comes to plant-based milk alternatives there are a few new trends to keep an eye on. Unlike some other plant-based foods, there’s a larger portion of older consumers that gravitate towards plant-based beverages. While almond milk is still going strong, soy milk consumption has decreased and oat milk is BOOMING with growth exceeding 2000%.

Grain-Free Foods

Cauliflower pizza crust is just the beginning of the trend surrounding grain free replacements for traditionally flour-filled foods. And while most dietitians will agree grains do not need to be avoided completely, there will continue to be an uptick in products like pasta, flours and snack made from nuts, veggies and legumes.

Meatless Burgers

One of the plant-based foods in the spotlight lately has been the meaty, yet meatless burger patty (and according to Seifer, ground crumbles are the next on the hit list). Researchers at New Hope Network including registered dietitians Jessica Shafer took a closer look at how these burgers stacked up nutritionally and also evaluated their ingredients and consumer preferences.

After studying more than 20 varieties of burgers for nutrition, taste and price, overall they found that some of the best tasting burgers were the ones that didn’t get high marks in the nutrition department. Price points ranged anywhere from $0.50 to $5.00 per burger and with a grading scale of A to F (just like school), most burgers landed in the B- to C range. Finally, while soy is getting less popular with plant-based beverage drinkers, it remains the primary ingredient in most plant burger patties.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. She is the author of four cookbooks First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook and Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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