Consumers worldwide have adopted a diet that includes a certain proportion of plant-based foods. In the US alone retail sales of plant-based foods have increased 11% from 2018 to 2019. In Europe, the plant-based food industry grew 49 % overall in those two years, with the most significant growth coming from Germany (226 %), followed by Austria (82 %), according to the research results published by the SMART PROTEIN project funded by the EU. Such large fluctuations raise the question - what are the influences which affect consumer food choices?
How Consumers Make Food Choices
We have long believed that what people choose to eat is influenced by social context.
For example, making healthy food choices is more difficult in an environment where low in nutrition and high‐calorie foods are plentiful, affordable, and readily available. But there is evidence that suggests that choices are affected by certain cues. In a series of laboratory‐based studies, researchers found that informing students about the relatively high vegetable consumption of other students increased students' choice of vegetables at a later meal for participants who did not regularly consume vegetables. However, there was no effect for the participants who already were high consumers of vegetables.
Hence, people are more likely to choose a "healthy" versus "unhealthy" food option if they see evidence that other people have chosen a "healthy" one. But how do these discrete choices develop into a continuous behavior change?
Making Healthy Eating a Habit
According to research, if a person decides to choose a "healthy" food item because others do so, then this behavior is based purely on public acceptance of the norm. That is, such a choice is made only to conform to the public. Therefore, it is unlikely to form the basis for an effective, long-term behavior change. However, if these new norms change a person's regular food habits, this would suggest a personal acceptance of the norm rather than mere conformity. This leads to sustainable long-term behavior changes.
Startups Working on Plant-Based Healthy Eating Choices
Creating new healthy habits is leading many companies to target people's primary food choice considerations, such as taste, the top reason for US adults to consume plant-based proteins. Companies are also focusing on price and quality to prompt positive connotations associated with plant-based foods. Such tactics and many others play a central role in the further evolution of the rising plant-based protein sector.
Our portfolio company, Paragon Pure, is tackling improving the taste of plant-based meat with its latest product, oleì pb™, a healthy fat solidified by oleogelation and specifically tailored for the next generation of plant-based burgers. Paragon Pure developed oleì pb after receiving one of the Good Food Institute's first exploratory grants, a new model for driving rapid innovation in the alternative protein industry. Paragon Pure's prototypes deliver the visual cues of fat within raw patties and then control the pan sizzle, juiciness, and flavor release performance. Unlike the unsustainable alternatives, oleì pb utilizes rice bran oil & wax: both up-cycled abundant raw materials from rice polishing.
As consumers continue to demand plant-based foods for their own health and the health of the planet, food companies must continue evolving and developing products that taste good, are made with "real" ingredients, are affordable, and are readily available.
All of us at Sente are looking forward to the next generation of plant-based foods. We anticipate some of the startups participating in our FoodTech: Health & Wellness program to be the next generation of leaders in the plant-based food industry.