With animal protein supply chains under siege during the pandemic, consumers are turning to plant-based alternatives, much as they were prior to current events but with perhaps an even deeper focus on health and wellness. And yet, where they find such products has shifted considerably. As described in The Spoon, with its pre-pandemic focus primarily on food service channels, Impossible Foods has faced significant challenges during the COVID-19 epidemic, along with its restaurant partners. The article describes how to compensate for losses to the food service channel. As of mid-April 2020, Impossible Foods had rolled out its plant-based ground beef substitute in over 750 retail outlets across four states, an expansion that puts the brand in nearly 1,000 stores nationwide. The brand has expressed optimism that the COVID-19 crisis will be a boon to plant-based meat sales, particularly as disruptions in the meat supply chain continue to make headlines and as consumers rethink their consumption of animal-based meat in the context of a global pandemic.

Interviewed in a recent Hartman Group newsletter article, Disruption in the Dairy Aisle: Califia Farms’ CEO Weighs In on the Power of Plant-Based Beverages, on a variety of topics relating to the ongoing popularity of plant-based alternative dairy beverages — and notably their popularity with mainstream consumers — Greg Steltenpohl, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Califia Farms, said "We appeal to a wider audience because today’s consumer understands that premium prices like ours typically mean higher quality and a commitment to clean, wholesome, nutritious ingredients that might be more labor-intensive or require expensive certifications. They aren’t willing to compromise on quality when it’s something they put into their own body or feed their family. Particularly in the age of COVID-19, when heart disease and diabetes are higher-risk factors than ever, more and more people are looking to transition toward a healthier diet. In fact, 51% of the population have purchased a plant-based food and beverage alternative in the past three months. That tells us plant-based is becoming mainstream and is no longer a niche category."

Overall, with increased attention on health and wellness in light of the urgent health concerns around COVID-19, plant-based eating certainly has the potential to gain further traction among consumers. However, as consumers increasingly adopt a food-as-medicine approach, they are likely to become more adamant in demanding clean labels and simple, whole ingredients in plant-based meat alternatives. We already see highly engaged consumers questioning the ingredient lists of highly processed plant-based foods and expect this type of critique to become more widespread going forward if brands do not adequately address such concerns.

Two separate Hartman Group studies examine topics relating to both plant-based products and the functional aspects of food and beverage products during the pandemic: our upcoming Functional Foods & Beverages and Supplements 2020 study examines the impact of coronavirus on consumers’ wellness lifestyles and shopping behaviors and includes exploration of consumer attitudes and behaviors with regard to supplements (and foods and beverages) as functional products with a particular focus on those that boost immunity and the body’s health defenses. Our Food & Technology 2019: From Plant-Based to Lab-Grown report explores the tensions evident at the cutting edge of food technology from the consumer point of view. Food & Technology 2019 examines how as more consumers than ever question the health, ethical, and environmental implications of animal products, innovative plant-based meat and dairy alternatives continue to take the packaged food and beverage world by storm. 

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