The same people and energy that gave rise to this industry can help continue this growth,” he urged.
Plant-based slowdown? Here’s how we proceed with it.
By Louis Blake
As a plant-based industry, we have enjoyed unprecedented levels of growth in recent years. Going “all in” plant-based in 2015 and leaving my other businesses behind seems like a very smart decision now, but even I was totally unaware, or even mildly expected, of how things would turn out as they did.
With vegan food advertising on the high street, big celebrities endorsing a plant-based diet and the world’s biggest brands joining Veganuary; The trajectory has been wonderful. A huge amount of investment has been poured into the space, particularly in plant-based diets, and it now feels like we’ve overcome many of the challenges we initially faced, especially as it relates to perception and awareness.
The words “vegan” and “plant-based” are seemingly everywhere. In 2022, however, we started hearing rumblings. So often Beyond Meat was heralded as the plant-based business that defined the entire market, and its share price plummeted. The plant-based bubble was bursting, they said.
As growth slows, businesses that rode the wave of huge valuations are coming under fire. Down rounds, product listings and newspaper articles question the industry’s long-term viability: The plant-based market is beginning to come under scrutiny and, in some cases, under concerted attack from industries that seek to disrupt it.
Return to collective action
As we move into 2023, it is my belief that we need to return to collective action. The same people and energy that gave birth to this industry can help sustain this growth, mitigate against attacks, and realize our shared collective mission. What we are all doing, in our different ways, is to end animal suffering and help people live more compassionate lives. We are stronger when we do this together.
“We are stronger when we do it together”
One of the most influential decisions made by foreign governments, as it relates to plant-based diets, is legalization around labeling. Both France and South Africa tried to pass laws last year to prevent companies from labeling their meat substitute products using the same name as the protein they replace. There is an ongoing risk that the UK could pursue litigation under pressure from big meat and dairy players to further condemn an already crippled industry.
The Plant Based Food Alliance has done some excellent work organizing collective action to tackle this, but more effort is needed to fight future proposals in Parliament. I encourage everyone to join and participate.
Second, I believe we need to do better in health. It’s easy to get lost in the terms vegan and plant-based, and although for many vegetarians, the priority is animal welfare, statistics show that most people who choose plant-based foods are doing so for health reasons.
Health is a priority
The first iteration of plant-based food was really about replicating and actually improving taste and texture. We’re all pretty good at it, but the health implications are often not considered. If we can improve animal products from a health perspective, as well as taste, texture and ultimately cost, the choice becomes much easier.
Engineering our products to be healthier, talking more openly about and understanding health outcomes, and encouraging our communities to make better choices with their support is paramount to the integrity of the message we’re sharing.
Collaboration and connections with other plant-based entrepreneurs helped me unlock new learnings. Connecting with companies operating not just in the UK, but in different parts of the world, sharing stories and strategies has been incredible and of real value.
Plant-based for the post-Covid era
In the post-Covid era, the way plant-based businesses work together has sometimes felt disconnected. Many have moved away from the mindset of creating markets so more businesses are competing for customers that are already there. In doing so, messaging shifts from promoting the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle to promoting individual products.
I fully understand this, and we are operating in challenging times, but without widespread adoption and normalization of a plant-based lifestyle, market growth slows. The DNA of the UK’s plant-based business community, and indeed the essence of what I propose above, is collaboration and the collective pursuit of a common mission.
“…The essence of what I propose is cooperation and the collective pursuit of a shared mission.”
Damoy Roberston & I recently launched our “Plantrepreneur” network for this reason, and one of the strategies we’re really pursuing with Miami Foods this year is collaborations with complimentary brands in our space. We are always looking to work with aligned people, so please get in touch.