Plant Based World Expo predicts long-term growth and forecasts top industry trends

Photo by Thomas Marthinsen

Plant Based World Expo Europe, the largest 100% plant-based trade event in Europe, is unveiling future trends and what we can expect from the food industry, marking the beginning of ‘Plant Based 2.0’.

Long term growth in the plant-based food industry is being led by the UK, one of the largest markets in Europe and growing by 9.58% and London – officially the most vegan-friendly city in the world[1]

The global plant-based food market is predicted to soar from £13.6 billion in 2021 to $115.3 billion by 2035, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.5 percent. And despite hyper growth followed by industry-wide challenges including the inflation rate for food and drink at 13.6 percent in August 2023[2], Plant Based World Expo prepares for its biggest show to date, at a larger venue to accommodate a 20% increase in exhibitors and registered visitors.

With 43% of gen Z claiming to be cutting meat from their diet in 2023, and 16% already have, a massive 59% of this generation could be meat-free by the end of the year. And so, the plant-based sector continues to innovate with new alternative proteins and textures. From retail to public sector, high street to hospitals, plant-based options are becoming more readily available. Meanwhile, within the industry, lobbying increases for plant-based subsidies to tackle the impact of animal agriculture on climate change.

Meeting demands of high value plant-based retail customers

While it’s broadly understood shoppers purchasing plant-based products spend 61% more than the average shopper, according to SPINS data[3], retailers need to provide quality plant-based products and a broader scope of choice for these valuable customers to maximise basket size.

At the start of the boom, companies in the space were innovating cross-category, such as Oatly producing ice-cream, yogurt and cheese in addition to milk. However, the industry is evolving, and a combination of pressure to create quality products and a shift towards new business strategies focused on longer term profitability means while brands previously diversified, now they are turning their focus back to core ranges.

The onus will be on supermarkets to get the balance right, and ensure they have a wide enough selection of quality plant-based products to keep high value customers coming back.

Menu choice and quality within foodservice

In foodservice, while catering for the needs and demands of the public, we’re seeing choice take centre stage and more restaurants are harnessing the power of plant-based. While it’s no longer an option to have just one plant-based item on the menu, we’re also seeing entire vegan menus dedicated to those making choices based on planetary and human health. Offering plant-based options can not only differentiate a restaurant from its competitors, but ensure its offerings suit customers’ values.

Vegetables will reign supreme in restaurants

We’re already seeing brands such as Symplicity Foods, founded by butcher and chef Neil Rankin, helping chefs, home cooks, caterers and restaurants to reduce their reliance on meat by creating simple and delicious food made with fermented vegetables. We will see this trend continue as more out-of-home dining outlets as well as retailers will seek to offer meat alternatives made from vegetables.

Where caterers have less time to prepare vegetables as centre-of-plate options from scratch, innovative brands who offer cleaner-label solutions can come into play. One such brand exhibiting at Plant Based World Expo is More Foods meat alternative products created using a novel blend of upcycled pumpkin and sunflower seeds to provide an unbelievable texture, taste and feel.

Consumer preference for clean labelling and flavours above meat alternatives

While the argument against over-processed foods continues, producers are evolving and many are now making quality, nutritious products for those who turn to them for convenience and affordability. Clean labelling will continue to gain momentum as consumers prioritise flavour and health.

Not only do ingredient decks need to be cleaner, manufacturers must focus on transparency; highlighting which plant-based proteins are used, not just “vegetable protein” but “pumpkin protein” for example. The public will start to understand new foods and proteins from sources beyond the usual meat and soya. To help meet the demands of the clean label-conscious consumer, manufacturers have also ramped up production of natural vegetable flavours using non-GMO approaches[4].

Fish and the turning of the tide

The UN estimates that nearly 90% of the global marine fish population are overfished or depleted. And while the plant-based food market boasts a wealth of options for red and white meat alternatives, fish alternatives have struggled to take hold.

This is set to shift as plant-based fish becomes a category leader, with innovation now booming. Omni Foods has already been serving their golden fillet to Greene King pubs across the UK, and this summer we saw the launch of the first 3D printed fish, representing another milestone in the industry. Meanwhile, fish brands are using algae to deliver the nutrients such as omega 3 achieving nutritional parity with fish equivalents. Expect wider adoption of plant-based tuna, sashimi and other fish alternatives in restaurant chains and high-street eateries.

The rise of affordable proteins

In response to the cost-of-living crisis, in the UK, we will start to see a shift to more affordable plant proteins. Aberystwyth University has recently announced a new £1m pea protein project to reduce the UK’s reliance on soya imports, and at Plant Based World Expo, Europe’s leading companies will be showcasing affordable protein solutions, including textured pea and fava proteins that don’t compromise on food affordability, taste, texture or appearance.

Traditional production techniques applied to plants

Using traditional production techniques like smoking (salmon) or fermenting (cheese) for plant-based products will be more extensive than ever this coming year. We’re seeing companies such as Handl Tyrol GmbH, an Austrian family business specialising in producing meat-based specialities such Tyrolean ham, raw sausages and roasts since 1902, now applying the same techniques to plant-based proteins.

Public sector campaigns for plant-based meals

The Plant Based Universities campaign is active in more than 50 universities and is gaining momentum. We can expect to see more universities and education settings acting on their own climate research to both limit the public sector’s contribution to the climate and ecological emergency, and to help shift public opinion in favour of a plant-based food system. We can also expect more of the public sector to opt for plant-based menus, as healthcare, prisons and the care sector realise the benefits of providing fewer animal-based meals. By adopting plant-based options, hospitals can improve health outcomes for patients while reducing their carbon emissions.

The government must act

While Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “This country is proud to be a world leader in reaching Net Zero by 2050,” The National Food Strategy recommended in 2022 a 30% reduction in meat consumption – which some may say is a very conservative approach.

And while the government continues to battle issues from an unhealthy population to the impact of food production on the environment and there will always be a need to drive the economy forward, the plant-based industry could argue that not enough is being done to reduce subsidies to the meat and dairy industries or invest in plant-based alternatives.

The sector itself now has a significant role to play in providing solutions to these problems. “Uniting the Plant-Based Industry to Lobby for Growth,” run by the Plant Based Food Alliance UK will take place at Plant Based World Expo Europe’s conference in November to help address this issue.

Getting the public on side

Global heating demands we educate the public on the importance of their consumption habits, and with no one party responsible, consumer-facing campaign groups will be integral to progress.

An example of a successful campaign with a track-record of encouraging consumers to adopt a vegan diet is Veganuary, who will be celebrating at Plant Based World Expo this November. The event will host the inspiring film premiere; “It’ll Never Catch On: The Veganuary Story 10 Years On”.

The campaign is hugely successful in the UK, Germany and now other countries, and Veganuary takes pride but doesn’t rest on its laurels, knowing there’s plenty more people to reach.

Vegan food manufacturers are adapting to changing times, strategies are evolving, manufacturers are leveraging economies of scale, and while initial hypergrowth slows, the culture shift is evident; from the availability of plant-based milks to breakfast, lunch and dinner choices available both in the public sector and on the high street.

Abigail Stevens, Marketing Director of show organiser JD Events, comments:

“Plant-based options continue to appeal to Millennials, Gen-Z consumers[5] (43% claim to be cutting meat from their diet in 2023[6]) and beyond, so it’s vital that businesses future-proof themselves and get their offering right. With innovation taking the plant-based industry to the next level, we’re calling on all areas of the wider food and beverage industry, governments, and the public to support this path we’re on – for the good of our collective health and that of the planet.”

Plant Based World Expo Europe, now in its third year, will take place at Excel London on 15th and 16th November 2023. Registration for the show is open to the food and beverage industry, including retailers, foodservice professionals, and investors.


[1] Happy Cow lists 400 all-vegan establishments around the streets of London

[2] Statista

[3] gfi.org

[4] “Considerations in Natural Flavoring Use in a Clean Label World,” Keith Cadwallader, Ph.D., Dept. of Food Science & Human Nutrition, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

[5] 65% say that they want a more ‘plant-forward’ diet, while 79% choose to go meatless once or twice a week. (ProVeg.com)

[6] Finder.com

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