Whole Foods Market is Embracing Plant-Based Innovation

People are more conscious of their diets these days than ever before. While there will always be a desire for junk food, customers today are demanding more and more healthy options. This ranges from organic and sugar-free products to the (relatively) recent demand for plant-based foods.

Retail sales of plant-based foods grew by 11% between 2018 and 2019, compared to growth of just 2% in the retail food space as a whole. The number of people following a vegan diet in the US has also grown by around 500% over the last few years. This is leading food and beverage brands to focus their efforts on providing more of these options than ever before to cater to the growing and lucrative market.

As a well-known purveyor of healthy food products, Whole Foods Market knows this part of the industry better than most, which is why the grocery store brand has been embracing plant-based innovation.

Whole Foods Market

We are living in a halcyon time for plant-based alternatives. There are several milk alternatives, dairy-free cheese is a constantly improving option, and a new wave of meat substitutes are more convincing than ever — in terms of taste, texture, and mouthfeel. Gone are the days of bland and mushy veggie options.

"The market as a whole is experiencing rapid growth in alternative product categories, as competitors expand their assortment to include more plant-based offerings," said Whole Food Market Senior Pricing Analyst, Jessica Pastore. "It's clear that the competitive retail landscape has keyed in on heightened consumer interest in plant-based foods. Now you can find items like Califia coconut creamer and Beyond Meat burgers at traditional retailers like Kroger, Publix and even Walmart. It's interesting and encouraging to watch these conventional grocers and mass retailers continue to add more alternative products to their shelves."

People are looking to cut down on animal products for a variety of reasons including health, allergies, intolerances, animal rights, and ethics. However, they don't want to sacrifice flavor. Thankfully, the image of vegetarian food has changed significantly and is now resplendent with delicious options and recipes.

Whole Foods Market is investing heavily in plant-based foods and, in particular, those which are cleaner and healthier than some of the more heavily processed options out there. It understands that those people seeking plant-based alternatives are just looking for good food — whatever their motivation.

Now owned by Amazon, Whole Foods Market has the financial backing and purchasing power to drive real change in this space. The brand can even fund research into new and exciting products and actively promote production innovation. Plant-based food is only part of the environmental argument. Developing new and more sustainable methods of manufacturing the food we eat every day is a top priority as well.

"While we have seen the wave of innovation — and significant advancement — in taste and texture of plant-based products, what appears to be gaining new momentum is plant-based products made with cleaner ingredients," continued Pastore. "Our customers are inquisitive, informed and aware. We know they are paying careful attention to product labels and ingredient lists. We are also seeing innovation in production. Plant-based food manufacturers designing modular equipment that uses less energy and is easily integrated into existing production facilities."

Plant-Based Innovation

What would be a mistake is for food and beverage to take the opinion some commentators have that this demand for healthy and plant-based food products is a trend which will disappear before long.

While that is certainly possible, it seems incredibly unlikely, given the way the movement has been growing over the last few years. The younger generations have gained more spending power, and the demand for these kinds of products will only grow as they fit in with the more environmentally conscious nature of Millennials and GenZers.

"The advice I have for fellow professional-foodies is to look at this market as more than just an industry trend," concludes Pastore. "The people who are building these brands, the health professionals and nutrition advocates who are pioneering research and promoting this outlook on nutrition — they are driven, responsive and welcoming. This is an intimate community that has more to offer than just business opportunities. A few short conversations can lead to real relationships, collaboration opportunities, and growth on both a professional and personal level."

Final Thoughts

It doesn't look like the plant-based revolution is going anywhere anytime soon and food and beverage brands would do well to sit up and pay attention. By offering more of these products, they can help build a more sustainable and ethical future for the planet.

Plant-based food is set to be a hot topic at Digital Food and Beverage 2020, taking place in July at the Hilton Austin TX.

Download the agenda today for more information and insights.

WBR Insights is the custom research division of Worldwide Business Research (WBR). Our mission is to help inform and educate key stakeholders with research-based whitepapers, webinars, digital summits, and other thought-leadership assets while achieving our clients' strategic goals.

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