Food Strategy Associates give their view on the 2022 Plant-Based World Conference & Expo

Last week, we attended JD Events’ Plant-based World Conference and Expo in Olympia London. This is the only 100% plant-based event for trade professionals and saw almost 200 exhibitors showcasing their plant-based portfolios. Over the two days of the conference, we heard from several industry leaders (in between sampling an array of plant-based products). Here is our perspective on the event…

Pete Speranza, the CEO of The Wicked Kitchen was one of many asserting that ‘the plant-based boom has just begun’. – the recent dip does not mean that plant-based is a fad. The plant-based sector has a strong future, but businesses face a number of challenges, primarily:

  1. Championing the transition to plant-based from animal meat
  2. Differentiating themselves in an increasingly crowded marketplace

Shuffling away from animal meat…

Not surprisingly in these tough economic times, “Don’t forget about the price tag” was a repeated theme. Whilst better educated consumers may help uptake of plant-based products to a degree, in testing times consumers will revert to conservative shopping habits and there will be one key factor driving decisions – price.

Stephanie Jaczniakowska-McGirr from ProVeg, the food awareness organisation, highlighted results from a recent survey across Europe where over half of flexitarian respondents identified cost as the key barrier to eating more plant-based products. Given many countries in Europe are entering, or are already in, a recession, we will see price become a more prominent consideration during most shopping decisions.

Data from the consumer surveys we have undertaken at Food Strategy Associates, and logic, tell us that price parity between plant-based and animal-based products is key. There were some differing views on how plant-based price parity could be achieved and an insightful perspective came from Endori founder Friedrich Büse. He pointed out that the meat supply chain has almost two centuries of development, with a structure where by-products from meat production are upcycled into other production processes (i.e., beef into leather). This optimised supply chain is one of the reasons behind relatively cheaper prices for animal-based meat.

The players in the plant-based industry need to look at developing their supply chains and finding synergies to help bring down costs and, in turn, prices. You can refer to our blog on optimising plant- based supply chains to learn more. Thank you, Friedrich, for understanding that price is core and developments need to be made here.

A saturated marketplace and some hits and misses…

We couldn’t write about the event without a nod to the products on show. We sampled many of the products on offer (many of them) and there were a few stand-outs:

  • La Vie’s plant-based bacon; THIS has competition as we see a superior product from La Vie, with a simple ingredient profile
  • Fable; Whilst not trying to be a meat analogue, Fable’s shiitake mushroom-based products had a great texture and flavour

We tasted some other great products which point to the future of this market, with continuous improvement on texture and innovative flavours. However, several products lacked any distinction, and it points to the challenge faced by new entrants; innovating with a product that can make a splash in an increasingly competitive market.

Branding and marketing are important but product quality, alongside price parity, should be amongst the core issues these businesses look to resolve. As the plant-based food market grows and comes under greater scrutiny from regulators and consumers, an additional challenge for businesses is developing tasty products whilst maintaining clean label status. In mature markets like the UK, consumers have more information and choice, allowing for comparison of ingredients and many of the companies we spoke to said simplifying ingredient mix and reducing the level of processing is a focus of their NPD.

This conference was a brief but exciting peek into the massive efforts we know businesses are putting behind enabling the plant-based transition. One thing is certain, the energy and excitement in the room over both days was palpable. Whilst there may be some challenging times ahead, there is real progress being made in the plant-based world in taste, clean-label and health. The plant- based transition is not dead but businesses need to continue working to attract investors and consumers and maintain momentum.

After attending several conferences around the world in the past few months, this one had the best diversity of products we have seen, showing that the UK remains an exciting plant-based hub. There is such potential in this sector, and it will be interesting to see who will be leading the charge…

Food Strategy Associates are a focussed specialist food & drink consulting firm with unrivalled expertise in the global plant-based market. Get in touch with us here.