For the past few years, the Innova Market Insights list of Top 10 Trends has included a plant-centric trend. This acknowledges the growing presence of plant-based foods and beverages, as well as alternatives to traditional animal-based products. In fact, Innova identified “Plant-Based: The Canvas for Innovation,” as the number two trend for 2022. This underscores the strength of plant-based products among mainstream food and beverage launches.

It’s increasingly clear that consumers desire more diversification and sophistication across a broad range of plant-based products. Plant-forward innovation is setting the pace for the wider food industry, where technology-driven solutions are gaining broader consumer acceptance. Two in five consumers globally say that they are more open to new technologies now that they have seen where technology has enabled plant-based innovation.

Nutrition and sustainability also play a bigger role as brands refine the next generation of plant-based foods. Our number one Top 10 Trend this year, “Shared Planet,” comes into play when considering the key drivers pushing plant-based demand. This trend signals how the environmental impact of food and beverages is more relevant than ever, with consumers also noting the importance of their own health.

Consumer interest grows in plant-based

The Innova Market Insights Consumer Survey 2021 identifies health as a key driver for consumer motivations—as well as new product development. Nearly two-thirds of US consumers surveyed say that eating foods that have a positive impact on their health is quite/very important. In the same survey, close of half of US survey participants would consider a 100% plant-based alternative because “it’s healthier.”

Protein also is a key selling point. We learned in our Innova Health and Nutrition Survey 2021 that the highest percentage of consumers, 21%, have increased their consumption of plant-based protein.

Plant-based foods also can appeal to consumer values pertaining to planet, values, and diet variety. According to our 2021 Consumer Survey, 54% of US consumers value honesty and transparency, while 35% of US consumers consider sustainability to be of major importance and make sustainable product choices. Survey participants tell us that they view plant-based foods as better for the planet (36%), representing their values and beliefs (24%), and bringing variety to their diet (23%).

Around one-third of US consumers believe that plant-based alternatives are the future of the food industry. Although a majority of US participants in the Innova Market Insights Meat, Dairy, and Alternatives Survey 2021 prefer meat and dairy over their plant-based alternatives, one-quarter report eating plant-based foods regularly. US consumers also are at least moderately familiar with many plant-based alternatives to meat. They are open to trying new food concepts or technologies and have an increased interest in consuming plant-based alternatives due to new technologies.

Meat and dairy are classic categories for plant-based

Meat and dairy alternatives are classic and expanding categories for plant-based products. Meat substitutes containing protein ingredients accounted for 4% of food and beverage launches containing protein ingredients in 2021, up from 1% in 2017. Innova projects global expansion in meat alternatives of 16.3% in market value and 10.5% in market growth between 2020 and 2022, with strongest growth in the US marketplace.

Meat alternatives in North America display a range of popular health claims. For starters, participating North American survey consumers prefer the term “plant-based” over vegan to describe meat alternatives. Claims related to “GMO-free,” “high/source of protein,” “vegan,” and “gluten free” also are prevalent.

Meanwhile, the term vegetarian has fallen out of favor in this category as companies shift focus onto plant-based ingredients that are entirely free of animal products. Several brands promote the absence of soy ingredients. While organic claims are increasing, they still fall short of use of the term globally. Fiber claims also are popular globally but under-index in North America.  

Restaurants often are the entry point for consumers interested in plant-based meat alternatives, although North Americans primarily consume meat alternatives at home. Plant-based burgers have a strong and growing presence on restaurant menus. Several chains, including KFC and Panda Express, are launching plant-based chicken entrees. Other non-burger introductions include vegetarian hot dogs at Wienerschnitzel, plant-based chorizo at Chipotle, a plant-based breakfast sandwich at Dunkin’ Donuts, and plant-based sausage in a Jamba Juice sandwich.

Local and regional companies lead new product development of meat alternatives in North America, although large companies such as Kellogg and Conagra maintain a significant presence. Kellogg has been a leader in meat alternatives since acquiring the Worthington Foods and Morningstar Farms brands. Its portfolio includes veggie burgers, chicken-style nuggets, buffalo wings, and a new line of vegan products under the Incogmeato sub brand. Conagra Brands’ Gardein product line incorporates meatless meatballs, fishless fillets, porkless bites, beefless burgers and chickenless “chick’n” products. Maple Leaf Foods acquired both Lightlife Foods and Field Roast Grain Meat Co.

Base ingredients for plant-based meat alternatives continue to diversify. Quorn was the first brand to use mycelium protein, and now that approach is shared by several start-ups including Meati Inc., Boulder, Colo.; Nature’s Fynd, Chicago; and Bosque Foods GmbH in Berlin, Germany.

New dairy alternatives with protein ingredients are growing faster than traditional dairy. In 2021, dairy alternatives with a protein ingredient comprised 38% of dairy launches with a protein ingredient, up from 17% in 2018. Dairy alternative drinks is the largest subcategory in dairy alternatives, making up half of dairy alternative launches with protein ingredients in 2021. Innova also sees growth in spoonable non-dairy yogurt launches in North America, supported by trends such as immune support. These products often feature functional ingredients, tropical fruit flavors, flavor fusions, and natural sweeteners.

As with meat alternatives, “vegan” and “high/source” of protein are top claims for spoonable non-dairy yogurt launches. Other related on-pack claims growing in popularity in North America include “organic,” “lactose free,” “no added sugar,” “digestive/gut health,” and “high/source of fiber.”

New, Next Frontier: Sweets

Plant-based concepts has evolved beyond core dairy and meat alternatives as more animal-free products advance into the mainstream. For example, plant-based sweets introductions are snowballing and brimming with new product development to meet the needs of the proliferation of vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians who want healthier alternatives.

Key innovators in the vegan sweet space also are answering the call for plant-based options that are high in protein and keto compliant.

Ingredient Innovation  

The plant-based foods movement is driving plant protein innovation. Globally, Innova Market Insights data show that presence of plant protein ingredients expanded from 6% of total food and beverage launches in 2017 to 8% in 2021.

More specifically, pea protein ingredients were listed in 20% of launches with a protein ingredient in 2021, up from only 9% in 2017. This demonstrates a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21% (2017-2021).

In contrast, launches with soy protein dropped from 25% of protein ingredient launches in 2017 to 18% in 2021. Pea protein isolate, chickpea protein, pumpkin seed protein and wheat protein isolate show strongest growth. Other forms of pea protein—including concentrated, crisp, and textured forms—are  becoming more widely used. Because pea protein is not a complete protein, manufacturers may add another plant protein such as brown rice or sesame to boost protein quality.

Hemp protein, almond protein, textured wheat protein, chia protein, and mung bean protein have a small but growing presence.

Egg replacement is another key area for innovation with plant-based ingredients. New product launches of plant-based bakery and dessert items often contain chickpea protein, pea protein, or flaxseed to replicate the functionality of egg. Flavor masking and further flavor building often are necessary to overcome the bitter, astringent, beany, or grassy off-notes in many plant-based proteins.  

Looking toward the future

Plant-based products show even more growth potential. Approximately half of consumers globally believe that plant-based alternatives can be the future of food industry, although only one-third in North America share this belief.

Accelerated by the pandemic, consumers are hungry for new food and beverage experiences. Premium and indulgence continue to gain ground in plant-based confectionery, dairy alternative, dessert, and ice cream categories.

Plant-based pet foods also are growing, with compound growth of 34% globally between 2017 and 2021. Ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s even released frozen dog treats with sunflower butter base.

Another one of our top 10 trends for 2022, Tech to Table, promises to expand the marketplace with developments such as animal-free alternatives generated through precision fermentation and cellular replication processes. As innovations grow, so will plant-based food and beverage options.

Lu Ann Williams is Global Insights Director at Innova Market Insights, provider of market research services including the Innova Database. With more than 25 years’ experience in the food industry, Lu Ann is a trend expert and frequent public speaker at events worldwide. She leads a team of analysts and works with global clients. Contact her at