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Plant Based Food
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Plant Based Foods Association Execs Talk Resilience & Innovation (CleanTechnica Exclusive)

We have reached a moment in history when our actions will determine the viability of our planet and the life it sustains—and to ensure a healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable future for generations to come, we need a food system that works for people, the planet, and animals alike.

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You may not be a vegetarian or a vegan, but by now you’ve heard about the health benefits of eating plants, as plants have essential nutrients that you cannot get from other foods. The vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants in plants help keep your cells healthy and your body in balance so that your immune system can function at its best. The environment needs you to eat more plants, too — meat and dairy production uses 83% of farmland and causes 60% of agriculture’s GHG emissions, but provides only 18% of calories and 37% of protein. To clarify these points, we reached out to the Plant Based Foods Association, and they were kind enough to provide our CleanTechnica readers with short interviews with 4 of their execs.

Rachel Dreskin, CEO, Plant Based Foods Association

Q: How is your 2022-24 Strategic Plan evolving as a 3-year roadmap for the Plant Based Foods Association?

We are currently halfway through our Strategic Plan and have made significant progress towards our goals to foster a thriving plant-based foods industry, facilitate a shift to plant-based diets, and promote a transition in agricultural production.

Despite the challenges the industry has faced over the past few years, including navigating supply network issues and inflation, plant-based food companies have shown incredible resilience. We have learned that there is a white space in research aimed at understanding the evolving plant-based consumer – and this valuable information will help better inform brands and industry stakeholders around unmet consumer needs and play a key role in developing strategies to realize the potential market for plant-based foods across retail and food service alike. As we look to develop our 2025-2027 plan, we will be engaging more deeply on plant-based consumer behavior.

Furthermore, our work has expanded internationally as we collaborate with the International Plant Based Foods Working Group, a coalition of plant-based food trade organizations worldwide. We are setting our sights to focus on the global future for plant-based foods, aiming to provide insights and opportunities to aligned organizations. By doing so, we aim to help the global plant-based foods industry thrive and contribute to the transformation of sustainable food systems.

Q: Why is the interconnection between the foods we eat and the viability of the planet so essential?

The plant-based foods industry represents an opportunity to innovate and optimize the way we feed the world. We have reached a moment in history when our actions will determine the viability of our planet and the life it sustains—and to ensure a healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable future for generations to come, we need a resilient food system that works for people, the planet, and animals alike. 57% of emissions from global food production come from raising animals for meat and dairy, in addition to growing crops for animal feed. Industrial animal agriculture is a leading driver of ocean dead zones, air and water pollution, and public health crises like antibiotic resistance and zoonotic diseases.

Plant-based foods and diets are a tangible, actionable path towards a healthier, more sustainable, more resilient, and more equitable food future for all.

Q: What response do you have to people who argue that processed plant-based foods aren’t as healthy as the items they’re designed to replace?

Consuming a diet that is high in plant-based foods is a long-held recommendation by nutrition professionals; however, the typical American still consumes a diet that is high in meat, and only 10% of Americans consume recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables. We view this as symptomatic of a broader food system issue that makes cheap meat and unhealthy foods broadly available and plant-based options harder to access.

When looking at plant-based foods, it is important to remember there is a spectrum of options available that meet a variety of consumer expectations around taste, texture, and health.

Generally speaking, plant-based foods have more fiber and tend to be lower in saturated fat than their animal-based counterparts. By virtue of being made from plant ingredients, these foods are also cholesterol-free and are produced without antibiotics or hormones. There is also a considerable benefit from an environmental health perspective, as plant-based foods require much fewer resources than animal-based foods and, therefore, contribute significantly less to large-scale air and water pollution.

We believe that everyone should have ready access to healthy, plant-based foods, and plant-based alternatives can be an important stepping stone for consumers who are looking to shift their diets away from animal-based foods.

Nicole Negowetti, VP of Food Systems and Policy

Q: What state and/or federal climate actions are you promoting?

● Farm Bill: Plant-based foods represent a major economic opportunity for US farmers, and we would like to see the Farm Bill support infrastructure that would enable farmers to diversify their crop production in support of the plant-based foods industry. Plant-based foods and ingredients offer ample opportunity to foster resilience into our current food system. From a farmer’s perspective, being able to tap into markets for crops other than the big staples, like corn and soy, is the key to introducing more crop diversity into their operation, reducing their input costs, and seeding resiliency for human food production in the face of climate change.

● US DGA’s: PBFA strongly supports the inclusion of sustainability and plant-based eating patterns in the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans. By including sustainability and promoting eating patterns that emphasize plant-based foods, the 2025-2030 Dietary Guidelines would increase the demand and access to sustainable and healthful foods and meals for millions of Americans through federal and state-level food and nutrition programs such as the National School Lunch Program and Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. This could have a positive impact on the environment as it would increase access to plant-based foods which, by nature, have a lower environmental footprint than their animal-based counterparts.

Q: How is PBFA supporting regenerative agriculture?

PBFA’s sister non-profit organization the Plant Based Foods Institute’s Sustainable Sourcing Initiative (SSI) illustrates how we are supporting the growth of regenerative agriculture and bolstering a transition to a plant-based food system. Through SSI, we empower plant-based food companies to prioritize sustainably sourced ingredients, and connect them with North American farmers and suppliers to shorten and strengthen their supply chains. Our goal is to strengthen sustainable, plant-based supply networks by facilitating the adoption of regenerative agricultural practices that promote biodiversity, nutrition, and soil health, and also promote equity across our food system by helping plant-based companies support and improve livelihoods for diverse and historically marginalized farmers, workers, and communities.

Julie Emmett, VP of Marketplace Development

Q: Why have plant-based foods continued to grow, even as total food and beverage sales have leveled off?

Plant-based foods are growing faster than overall food and beverage sales due to stronger than ever consumer demand, despite the barriers of high prices and lack of more broad availability. Through our shopper data research and household panel data commissioned from Circana (formerly IRI), plant-based foods have 60% household penetration and 80% purchase repeat rates, generally increasing year over year. Sales of plant-based foods has outpaced all speculation, up almost 7% in 2022 and 45% over the last three years demonstrating the utmost resiliency in the face of difficult market conditions, which hit emerging brands even harder.

From our consumer research, we found 70% of the total U.S. population is consuming plant-based foods, up from 66% one year ago. Consumers are responding to the consistent flow of innovative foods evident in both food types (meatballs, creamers, cheese etc) and in ingredients, whereby different types of nuts, seeds, and plants of all varieties are being used, across over 20 plant-based categories across the store for all eating occasions. Brands are responding to consumer needs by creating cleaner, more nutritious foods as well. PBFA works closely with our members and retailer partners to educate about the plant-based foods opportunity that meets the needs of their customers by conducting research that incorporates all of these insights into reports they use with retailers as evidence to expand space and variety in retail and online.

Q: What kinds of plant-based foods are we going to see released to grocers and restaurants in the next couple of years?

Innovation in plant-based foods knows no ceiling. We’re seeing growing variety in plant-based meats — expanded seafood options, new plant-based eggs that span different applications such as scramble, whole hard boiled eggs, runny yolks, and folded eggs as well. Plant-based cheeses are also seeing lots of innovation with new ingredients being leveraged to increase the creamy texture and flavor — a number of brands have introduced new cultured techniques to achieve this that are very exciting. We are also seeing an increase of a blend of plant-based ingredients in milk and yogurt, such as combining pumpkin seeds, mung or butter beans, and oats, which creates not only heightened nutrition but better texture and taste. The plant-based industry moves quickly, so we also anticipate there will be new options we haven’t thought of yet entering this space.

Hannah Lopez, Director Marketplace, Foodservice

Q: How can we get more restaurants to expand their plant-based menu options?

The foodservice industry has responded to consumer demand by increasingly incorporating plant-based foods into their menus. This trend has been consistently growing over the past decade, with nearly 50% of U.S. menus faturing a plant-based dish. Many companies have even made plant-based goals an integral part of their core menu offerings.

Collaboration with brands is a crucial opportunity for foodservice operators to introduce exciting and delicious new plant-based options. By working with organizations like the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA), operators can connect with brands that can meet their needs. They can also utilize their relationships with broadliners and local distributors to explore innovative product sourcing and development. When operators align their menu decisions with their overall mission and listen to their guests, they can effectively vet and incorporate new plant-based products.

At this point, it’s not about convincing operators of the consumer insights that clearly show the demand for plant-based options. The focus should be on creating equitable menus across the industry, and many engaged operators have already embraced this concept. By leveraging industry partnerships and adopting a data-driven approach, action can be inspired throughout the foodservice industry and across various segments. CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) brands that have succeeded in the retail marketplace can also find success in the foodservice sector. However, they need to approach the foodservice category with a different perspective than they would for retail or e-commerce. They should consider how their products solve problems for operators and ensure that packaging and storage align with foodservice requirements. Seamless integration and minimal labor complexities are important considerations.

The goal of organizations like PBFA is to elevate different marketplace strategies by providing tools, guidance, and data to support brands in presenting themselves effectively. While the food service sales pipeline can be challenging and time-consuming, the potential rewards are significant. Scaling production and reducing costs becomes more feasible when manufacturers secure anchor accounts through their internal sales teams, which can then be leveraged with brokers and distributors. Additionally, brands that test their products at a local or regional level can address any potential issues before experiencing increased demand, saving time and money in the long run.

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a Model Y as well as a Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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