Following today’s news (Wednesday 18 November) that Unilever has set a €1bn ($1.2bn) target in annual plant-based food sales; Ryan Whittaker, consumer analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, offers his view: “Unilever has chosen the right time to announce this news; not only is November World Vegan Month, but GlobalData’s projections peg the growth of global retail consumption of meat substitutes at 8% in 2020 – amounting to a global cumulative value of US$5.1bn. In fact, GlobalData’s most recent surveys suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic has actually raised the priority of sustainability and ethics in global consumer attitudes on average, all of which influence plant-based consumption.”
Whittaker continues: “Vegan and plant-based alternatives were a source of growth and innovation prior to the pandemic, both in retail and foodservice, and interest really seems to have increased during COVID-19. GlobalData’s most recent survey found that attitudes have most strikingly shifted towards ethics and sustainability in the global south. It seems as if the pandemic has really driven consumers everywhere to consider what they’re eating, and Unilever’s latest ‘Future Foods’ initiative is set to appeal to the numbers of consumers who may attempt to reduce meat and dairy and reduce the impact of consumption on the environment.
“There are a number of upcoming technologies that will align with these new consumer demands. New proteins from plants and fungi present new routes into this space. As health concerns often overlap with environmental concerns COVID-19, it is smart to pursue products that can provide both.
“Unilever’s approach, which also focuses on encouraging more healthy consumption and aims to halve food waste across its operations by 2025, is only going to appeal to this large group of consumers more. In many ways, Unilever could be said to be leading the way in how business is going to have to become greener, less wasteful and ultimately more sustainable. Other companies should take note; their plans for the future should consider the use of plant-based alternatives to help redesign the global food system. They don’t need to tell consumers what to eat, but by making greener products easier to access, they enable consumers to freely make that choice.”