Research published last month by Wageningen University & Research in its annual Sustainable Food Monitor revealed that the demand for and supply of sustainable food products rose last year even as total spending on food fell. Specialty shops for sustainable food showed increases in sales as well. Key aspects of these patterns, according to the monitor, are foods and ingredients grown with a lower impact on the environment, animal welfare, and social impacts of production and processing.

The monitor report further showed that consumers recognize and seek these labeled products and put their money where their hearts are, citing specifically labeled (e.g. “Rainforest Alliance”) product sales that grew at double-digit percentage rates in 2020. Moreover, consumers have now fully entwined ecology with health. Health Focus International put it succinctly in its “2021 Global Sustainability Report,” released the day after Wageningen University’s study.

The HFI research, titled “Sustainability: The Shift from benefit to requirement,” identified a “paradigm shift toward a new holistic view on sustainability—with consumers truly understanding the connection between planet and personal health.” HFI researchers noted that, “Sustainability has morphed from a parallel of healthy nutrition to a fully integrated component of a product’s healthfulness—and is becoming a key consumer requirement.” Two statistics they cited are that nearly eight in 10 consumers believe “a healthy environment is important for overall health,” and almost two-thirds believe that “what is good for the planet is also good for me.”

Wrap it up
Processors should take note of another statistic in the HFI Sustainability report: More than three-quarters of consumers polled worldwide expressed concern about plastic waste. HFI concluded, “The war on plastics: concern is universal.”

While steps have been made by many CPG companies to reduce plastic use, it frankly is not sufficient. We’re rapidly reaching a point where companies that do not dramatically cut petroleum-based plastic usage will be forced to do so. True, biodegradable and compostable plant-based plastic tech is still in its infancy, but a shift to mandatory measures could happen fast.

Plateware and cutlery made from leaves and organic waste, edible films, and packaging from mushroom fibers are slowly gaining ground, but a fun approach comes from incrEDIBLE eats Inc.’s line of edible spoons. The hard cookie spoons hold up to real usage and are available in chocolate and vanilla flavors or, for your soups and stews, Oregano-Chili and Black Pepper. 

New mantra
The “plant-based” explosion is a linchpin of the “good for the planet, good for my health” dictum. And as cell-based animal products and analogs continue their exponential rate of development and production, an “old star” is burning brightly—plant-based milks. They’ve been around for decades, due to high demand from lactose intolerant/sensitive consumers and so were perfectly positioned to meet the sudden spike in demand.

Of these, almond milk and oat milk are in the top sales spot. While I reserve using my ChefWave Milkmade plant-based milk machine for homemade almond milk, the variety of milk analogs available on shelves continues to expand. Nearly every seed, nut, and grain has been turned into a plant-based milk replacer. But technology has advanced to a point where last summer a Chilean company, NotCo, used AI and molecular science to bring to market its NotMilk brand of faux milk made of primarily of pineapple and cabbage. It’s not just the novelty of the product but the technology that could spell success, in that it is said to precisely mimic the flavor, texture and performance of dairy milk.