With an increased global focus on reaching net-zero emissions, the shift to climate-friendly, sustainable protein production presents significant sales and investment opportunities. According to a new report out by the Good Food Institute, companies and investors are interested in plant-based innovation recognize its transformative potential to achieve a carbon-neutral food system, and they are positioning themselves to lead this transition. This motivation, besides the obvious opportunity presented by growing consumer excitement around plant-based options, made 2020 a record-breaking year for plant-based sales and investments globally:
● The U.S. retail plant-based food market grew 27.1 percent, almost twice the rate of the total retail food market, to just over $7 billion.
● U.S. plant-based meat retail sales grew 45 percent, flying past the $1 billion mark for the first time and closing out the year at $1.4 billion in total sales.
● Global plant-based meat retail sales crossed the $4 billion mark to $4.2 billion, up from $3.4 billion in 2019.
● More capital was raised during 2020 than in any single year in the industry’s history. A healthy $2.2 billion was invested in the plant-based space, making up almost half of all capital invested in the industry since 1980.
● New unique investors in the plant-based space increased by 44 percent from 2019 to 196. Around the world, over 800 companies and brands either primarily focus on plant-based foods that directly replace animal products or have a business unit or product line focused on such products. Retail products launched throughout the year in all regions of the globe. The companies expanding into the space ranged from small plant-based startups to large multinational food companies and conventional meat companies. Foodservice also saw many plant-based product launches in 2020, particularly as plant-based companies expanded into international markets through partnerships with companies local to specific regions.
Plant-based innovation in protein fractionation, crop breeding and optimization, and
end-product manufacturing continued to develop over 2020. Of particular focus was the creation of whole-muscle products, with developments in shear-cell technology, spinning, and 3D printing to create fibrous muscle textures to deliver the experience of eating animal-based meat. Researchers continue to advance technology in the plant-based space, including those leading the dozens of plant-based research projects funded through GFI’s Competitive Research Grant Program. Regulatory developments in 2020 include the Virginia governor’s veto of the state’s dairy label censorship bill and a ruling by a California judge against limiting dairy terminology on product packaging from plant-based dairy company Miyoko’s. The European Parliament rejected a proposal that would have banned all conventional meat-related terms on plant-based food labels across all 27 countries of the European Union. All three regulatory developments are key victories for the plant-based food industry in its fight against label censorship, although regulatory action around label censorship is ongoing in both the United States and Europe.
The impressive slate of plant-based product releases, company launches, investments, science and technology innovations, and labeling wins in 2020 signals another year of continued growth and momentum ahead and brings us closer to realizing a world where alternative proteins are no longer alternative. While 2020 was a record-breaking year for plant-based proteins, more investment is needed—from both the public and the private sectors—to mitigate the environmental impact of conventional protein production, meet global climate goals, and sustainably feed a growing population.