The Emergence of Plant Protein - PulsePoint
April 16, 2019
What is driving growing consumer demand for plant protein and what does this mean for pulses?
The launch of the revised Canadian food guide caused quite a stir as it included an expanded protein category that was not limited to just animal protein sources, but also elevated the importance of including plant proteins, such as pulses, into everyday meals.
Research from Datassential, a food industry market research company, has found that 44 per cent of American consumers are trying to eat less meat, and 57 per cent of them are trying to eat more plant protein. This does not mean that they are going vegetarian or vegan, but that they are looking to eat a little less meat, and hopefully, more pulses.
Why are consumers trying to eat more plant protein? Marie Molde, Registered Dietitian and Account Executive with Datassential explains, “Consumers are shifting toward a plant-centric, benefits-driven eating philosophy to achieve a balanced lifestyle. Perceptions of health is the key driver of plant-based eating for now, but great taste is in the wings and environmental sustainability is also a key component.”
Consumers today may be seeking to reduce their meat intake, but relatively few aspire to be full-time vegetarians. Molde uses the term “flexitarian” to describe the shifting consumer demographic.
“This is the notion of limiting meat in our diets, but not excluding it entirely, instead eating more plant-based foods. Our (Datassential) research shows flexitarianstyle eating is the dietary shift that consumers today find most appealing — they want to marry plant-based eating with smaller portions of animal protein.”
Molde believes the growing emphasis on plant proteins is not just a trend, but is a long-term dietary shift in North America. While it tends to be the younger generations including Millennials and Gen Z that are driving the growing interest in plant protein, there is traction gaining amongst the Gen X and Baby Boomers demographic as well.
This is good news for pulse growers, as the Canadian pulse industry is working to make the most of this growing market.
“As the largest producers of lentils and peas in North America, Saskatchewan farmers have the best opportunity to capitalize on the growing interest in plant proteins,” says Amber Johnson, Manager of Market Promotion with Saskatchewan Pulse Growers. “Early on we identified the opportunity for pulses to be uniquely positioned as a sustainable source of plant protein. The work we are undertaking in this area is to ensure that if consumers are going to eat more plant-based that their first choice is pulses.”
The Canadian pulse industry has deployed a strategy for diversifying markets for 25 per cent (two million tonnes) of Canadianproduced pulses. Positioning pulses as a plant protein source is a significant component of that strategy when targeting food manufacturers and large-scale volume foodservice operators. The strategy also includes a focus on pet food, feed, and aquaculture markets.
Molde agrees there are significant opportunities for pulses within the plant protein trend. When Datassential looked specifically at lentils in the United States (U.S.) foodservice category, the interest was clear.
“Lentils have grown 16 per cent on restaurant menus over the past four years, and the fouryear prognosis for lentil menu penetration in the U.S. is above average — in the 74th percentile for future growth potential,” she says. “This means that growth of lentils on restaurant menus is predicted to outperform 74 per cent of all other foods, beverages, and ingredients over the next four years.”
“Lentils are very much in a sweet spot within this space.”