Before COVID-19, total plant-based retail sales were growing at a rate almost five-times faster than total retail food sales in the United States, according to the Good Food Institute and Plant Based Foods Association. From just April 12 to May 9 of this year, during the first wave of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdowns, vegan products saw a 53 percent increase in sales versus 34 percent for meat.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a better or more important time to be in this category,” says Dan Curtin, President of Greenleaf Foods and owner of Lightlife Foods and Field Roast Grain Meat Co. Started more than 40 years ago producing tempeh in a garage, Lightlife is now the largest tempeh producer in the U.S. and offers more than 30 different plant-based products.
“We’re a food company that uses technology, not a technology company that uses food,” Curtin tells Food Tank. “For us, it’s all about using ingredients you know, you’re familiar with, and you probably have in your cupboard.”
Lightlife asked more than 11,500 consumers in a study released this year about what they want in plant-based protein. They “heard loud and clear,” Curtin shares, that eaters want recognizable, nutritious ingredients as well as choice and a variety of options. Ninety percent of respondents that tried plant-based protein for the first time in the past year were actually flexitarians, according to the study, signaling that more and more consumers are becoming curious about plant-forward diets.
Companies across sectors are creating their own plant-based protein options, such as McDonald’s recently announcing their meatless McPlant patty. “I think it’s awesome,” Curtin says. “This is all about availability and giving people choices.” Consumers are becoming more exposed to plant-based options, realizing that plant-based products have come a long way, and willing to try it.
Eaters will have to determine what’s best for their diet, Curtin tells Food Tank. He challenges consumers to look at the DNA of companies offering plant-based options and ask, “are they a food-forward company or not?”
On “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg,” hear Dani talk with Curtin about common plant-based protein myths, how more flexitarians are becoming curious about plant-forward diets, and why not all plant-based products are created equal.