This past March Berlin was the home of Europe’s first professional animal protein alternatives conference organised by international food awareness organization ProVeg. The New Food Conference brought together scientists, researchers, food enthusiasts and entrepreneurs who are leading the slaughter-free, environmentally friendly and socially just food revolution. I was lucky to be present at the sold-out conference and this is part one of my two-part series on the future of food based on what I’ve learned (and tasted).
The first day of the conference was dedicated to plant-based animal protein alternatives or as food sustainability expert and one of the conference’s hosts Jeroen Willemsen called them: animal protein successors. It was a jam-packed day with 16 speakers (food scientists, marketing experts, ending animal farming advocates, impact investors, chefs and CEO’s) and 9 pitches from promising plant-based startups. Here are my five key takeaways from the first day on the future of plant-based animal protein successors.
Plant-based food is for the children
In news that’s shocking to no-one, the early adopters and current crusaders of the plant-based food movement are millennials, the generation I, too, am a part of. We are the generation who grew up in abundance when it came to meat and food choices. For us, born between 1981 and 1996, meat wasn’t a luxury but a very convenient option that got cheaper and cheaper. But abundance also means an abundance of choices which led to an abundance of questioning when it came to one’s diet. The food trends we’ve seen so far and the ones to come, like the ever-rising plant-based food trend, are not about products themselves but about answers to the questioning audience’s desires.
Eating habits of generations including and after millennials are much more intentional than the ones before them. We are aware of better options: better for our health, for the planet and for other human beings. The audience now wants food that is healthy, guilt-free, tasty and accessible. And plant-based food is the answer to this modern quadruple prayer.
Transparency is your friend
This is where transparency comes into the playing field. If plant-based food is indeed the answer to consumers’ responsibly hedonistic prayers, why not shout it out of rooftops? Plant-based meat successors are indeed better for one’s health, the planet, the animals, and other human beings; and they can be delicious in the right hands. So food producers, marketers, researchers, and anyone who’s in the business of ending animal farming should be clear about what they’re offering to people.
People do care but it’s not their priority
Speaking of transparency and talking about the social and environmental impact of your product, it’s important to keep in mind that they’re not enough on their own. What a lot of speakers mentioned during the first day of the conference was that while consumers say they care about certain things like sustainability and ethics when it comes to food choices, their purchasing habits don’t always match their statements. People often choose convenience over anything else. So it’s very important to make plant-based choices easy for the consumers. The accessibility of varied plant-based choices will also lead consumers to associate plant-based food with positive feelings because it will make it easy for them to do the thing they know deep down is right.
Food choices aren’t made in isolation
This means not only convincing consumers on how much better a plant-based diet is but also providing them with a plethora of alternatives. Alternatives that present them combinations of all the desires they have, whether it’s sustainable + delicious + affordable or healthy + ethical + hassle free. And while these might seem like unattainable desires at first blush they are actually fully possible. From protein-rich meat alternatives that have the same texture as ‘real’ meat, to healthy, vegan and tasty chocolate bars, the sample stands at the conference were testaments to this.
It also means we need to convince big conglomerates and governments that the switch to a plant-based diet is imperious for the future of our planet and to convince them that this is also what the people want.
It’s not all about the vegans
It’s natural to think that the plant-based food trend is happening because of the rising number of vegans and vegetarians and that the industry owes this speedy growth to years of tireless advocacy. This is partly true, but it is not the only nor the main reason. The plant-based industry owes a lot to the movement but there has been no drastic change in the number of vegetarians and vegans throughout the years. Plant-based animal protein alternatives are becoming more and more popular each year not because of vegans but because of casual meat eaters. People who are aware (woke if you will) but not willing to go the whole nine yard for whatever reason. Think about how oatmilk exploded in the past two years, its speedy rise even caused oat milk shortages all around the world. The people who were going on oat milk cappuccino quests, however, weren’t vegans with a specific thirst for oaty goodness, they were mostly omnivores who just prefer oat milk over dairy, be it because of its taste, its nutritional values, or just because it’s ‘hip’.
Vegans and vegetarians don’t need convincing, they are already making the effort to minimize their impact, it is the casual meat eater, the flexitarian, the plant-based food industry should be (and actually currently is) focusing on.