We're in the midst of a food evolution — and a food revolution — as more people seek out plant-based foods and products.
As vegan and related novel alternatives get better in taste, become more affordable, and have greater availability, a future of food that doesn't rely on animals and environmentally-destructive factory farming seems more attainable each year. And 2022 may be the greatest year yet to prove this to be true.
There is a coalescence of factors contributing to the plant-based boom. Emerging food tech startups backed my powerhouse investors. An evolving dining scene that puts more plants — and less meat — on the menu. The availability of meat doppelgangers made to satisfy those who don't want to give up foods they know and love. These are to name a few.
Read on to uncover some of the biggest plant-based and related food-tech trends you will see this year.
'Animal-free dairy' in more products
"Animal-free dairy" sounds like an oxymoron. But food tech startup Perfect Day and its growing list of brands and brand partners might just be on the verge of ushering in an animal-free-dairy renaissance.
Perfect Day's patented animal-free dairy proteins use a fermentation process rather than the traditional animal-required way, which is extracting from bovine milk. In 2020, Smitten Ice Cream became the first company to use animal-free dairy from Perfect Day in a commercial product. Subsequently, Perfect Day's own brand, Brave Robot, followed shortly after with pints sold at grocery stores and on its website.
There's more to come, too. Wellness brand Natreve recently announced the launch of its animal-free whey protein powder, which says it will come to market in 2022. Another brand called Modern Kitchen launched its animal-free cream cheese spread in September 2021 and has started to sell it online.
But don't call these animal-free dairy products "plant-based" — they're not, since the animal-free dairy proteins are identical to those found in cow's milk. And while the proteins are vegan, it should be cautioned that those with a milk allergy should avoid them, according to Perfect Day. (They say those with lactose sensitivity or intolerance would be OK to consume.)
Be on the lookout for Perfect Day continuing to launch its own consumer products through an arm called The Urgent Company, and for other brands to license the next-gen dairy ingredient. We may start to see some of these companies from partnerships with restaurants in 2022.
Mycoprotiens increasingly used for alternative meats
"Mycoptotien" sounds like a hyper food-techy thing, but its foundations are based on an organism more than a billion years old: fungi. Mycoprotiens are formed when fungi is placed in a fermentation tank — similar to tanks used to ferment beer — and fermented with glucose and other nutrients.
The outcome is a doughy protein substance with a fibrous meat-like texture, which can be used as a key ingredient to create meat substitutes. Quorn, a popular brand of vegan and vegetarian foods, has long used mycoproteins in its products, like its vegetarian "chicken" nuggets.
The Vegetarian Butcher, a plant-based meat alternative brand which was acquired by Unilever in 2018, is also using mycoproteins. With their rich nutritional profile, relatively inexpensive production, and a low environmental impact compared to animal-meat production, expect to see more plant-based brands opting to use mycoproteins for their alt-meats.
We may also see mainstream consumer-packaged-goods juggernauts get into the mycoprotein game, either by snatching up plant-based mycoprotein startups or launching their own mycoprotein-based alt-meat brands. Mycoprotiens are considered vegan and plant-based.
Cultivated meat actually coming to our plates
Cultivated meat (also called cell-based meat, cell-cultured meat and a variety of other names) was once a moonshot idea for scientists trying to make meat without the animal. But in the last few years, cultivated meat producers have made strides to prove viability.
With the impending FDA and USDA approval of cultivated meat, which some industry experts think could happen as soon as mid-year 2022, we'll begin to see these novel proteins in the form of fish, steak, chicken, and more start to be served.
Brands will start to partner with select food-service outfits and chefs they trust with preparations of their cell-based meat. For example: Eat Just and its Good Meat cell-based meat brand — which is currently selling its cultivated chicken in Singapore — recently announced chef José Andrés has committed to selling Good Meat cultivated chicken at one of his US restaurants once regulatory approval is reached.
Note that you won't see cultivated meat being labeled or called vegan or plant-based — it's neither, technically, since there's currently some animal involvement along the way, and the basis of the meat is made from animal cells, not plants.
Restaurants pivoting to more veg-centric menus
While we might not see restaurants doing drastic pivots to all plant-based menus, expect restaurants and chefs de-emphasizing meat — as well as adding and labeling vegan options on the menu.
You'll also see more restaurants leading with these offerings and using it in marketing making it clear to consumers that they offer an inclusive dining experience, and that they're eager to use plant offerings as a competitive advantage against laggers.
Plant-based fine dining
What kind of food do you think of when you hear "fine dining"? An expertly cooked Kobe steak? A perfectly seared Bluefin Tuna?
In 2022, chefs will increasingly redefine what luxury dining means with plants, not meat, at the center of the plate. While we've started to see highly regarded chefs go all-in on plant-based fine-dining — Alexis Gauthier's Gauthier Soho with fine dining French gastronomy, Daniel Humm's Eleven Madison Park, and Matthew Kenney, the unofficial father of vegan fine-dining with his empire of plant-based restaurants — expect to see more fine dining establishments make a pivot to de-emphasize meat, and offer thoughtful plant-based dishes that use creative house-made proteins.
School cafeterias getting more healthful plant-food options
Pressure has been mounting for schools to add healthier food options in the cafeteria for kids—and specifically more plant-based options for both human and planetary health.
The dependence of school lunches on animal products dates back to the 1980s, when a surplus of dairy and cattle formed the basis of the school menus we see today. Private businesses are heavily entrenched with the government's National School Lunch Program, making it challenging to displace legacy meat and dairy food options.
But 2022 could be a historic year for school lunch reform. There is currently a bill in Congress that would provide a grant to school districts to add more plant-based options. We'll also see new programs and offerings driven both by nonprofits and private plant-based businesses.
Dedicated vegan markets—both brick and mortar, and e-commerce
Walk into any market and you'll surely find a small section carved out for vegan foods. An all-vegan shopping experience at a grocery store or local market, though, has been harder to come by — but that's changing.
A host of all plant-based e-commerce stores have been popping up over the last several years, and in 2022, the brick-and-mortar experience for all plant-based neighborhood bodegas is not to be ignored.
PlantX, the e-commerce vegan foods and goods company, has started to slowly expand its in-person neighborhood markets, dubbed XMarket. Its largest store opened in November 2021 in San Diego, California, and the company already has several other locales in North America either open, or announced to be opening soon.
Another, PLNT PWRD MRKT, which is focused on plant-based snacks and goods, recently opened in Montecito, California, making it the first-ever all vegan market on the California central coast. Expect to see more dedicated plant-based stores with a focus on vegan brand curation and in-store community experiences.
Celebrity investment in vegan brands and alt-proteins
Where celebrities and their investment firms put their dollars not only make headlines, but they're also signals to the market. The last few years have given rise to celebrities infusing investment dollars into plant-based and future food brands whose values align with their own — and where they see market opportunity.
Leonardo DiCaprio is betting big on cultivated meat, with investments in 2021 in both Aleph Farms and Mosa Meat. He's also previously invested in Beyond Meat and plant-milk brand Califia Farms.
Sean "Jay-Z" Carter was an early investor in allergen-safe vegan cookies Partake Foods, Impossible Foods, Simulate plant-based chicken nuggets, and Oatly. Drake invested in Daring Foods, a plant-based chicken company. Travis Barker invested in esteemed LA-vegan restaurant Crossroads. Post Malone's venture firm invested in Actual Veggies, a whole ingredient veggie patty company.
The list goes on, and will only get bigger.
Plant-based and food tech brands going public
The last few years have seen banner IPOs from leading plant-based brands.
In 2019, Beyond Meat went public with one of the most successful IPOs ever with a $1.5 billion valuation; just months later, it was worth more than $12 billion. Oatly went public in 2021 with a valuation of $10 billion. In the same year, Globally Local made history as the first vegan fast food-chain to go public (and it did so on the Toronto Stock Exchange).
Expect to see vegan brands and food-tech companies going public in the US and in Canada in 2022. (To see which plant-based brands have gone public already, there's a helpful list on Vegpreneur that tracks this activity.) Watch out too for the formation of, and activity from, plant-based and alt-protein-focused SPACs.