The boom of plant-based food and alternatives came at an opportune time when now and again, news reports expose the questionable or even horrific practices of modern factory farming. The final quarter of 2016 has brought even more alarming news for the public. In November, hairy crabs from two mainland farms sold in Hong Kong were found to be contaminated with excessive levels of highly toxic cancer-causing chemicals: dioxin and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls. Right on the heels of the report are the Consumer Council’s findings that affect most of the local meat-eating population – more than 60% of tested chicken samples contained antibiotic-resistant bacteria. As if that was not haunting enough to put consumers off meat, Bloomberg Businessweek ran a cover story titled “How antibiotic-tainted seafood ends up on your table” in their Christmas issue. The story reveals that in addition to the antibiotics added to the water to prevent and treat diseases, farmed seafood is exposed to the antibiotics administered to livestock as their urine and feces flow into the pond.
With red meat, chicken and seafood all severely contaminated, what exactly can the public eat? Some people start looking for wholesome alternatives to safeguard their health. In the past few years, many new players of plant-based food have entered the consumer market and more are bound to spring up. The plant-based industry shows no sign of stopping or even slowing down — Whole Foods predicts that flexitarianism is going to be one of the biggest food trends in 2017 as it is a more viable way for people to cut down on meat. Forbes, Business Insider, Mintel and Baum+Whiteman also unanimously forecast that one of the trends in the new year will center around plants, driven by the millennial consumers.
According to “Food & Drink Trends 2017” by Mintel, products with plants will be on the rise. The report reaffirms the growth of plant-based products, saying “the emphasis on plant content reinforces growing interest in vegetarian and vegan products, many of which are chosen by consumers for an occasional drink, snack or meal rather than as part of a wholesale change to a plant-based lifestyle.” It also posits that products placing the emphasis on plants in fact “elevate plants to being necessary ingredients that provide more nutrients and, therefore, lend a health halo to formulations.” This view is echoed by Business Insider, which singles out “alternative” pasta made with a diversity of plants, such as quinoa, lentils, chickpeas and kelp, as a rising food item in 2017 as people would like to up their vegetable intake.
Baum+Whiteman even makes a candid statement about plants for 2017. Back in 2015, it said that vegetables would step up to the plate. In their latest trend report, they even declared, “Vegetables in 2017 will extend their domination of the dinner plate, shoving animal protein to the edges…or off the plate altogether.” The statement is not off the mark and can be verified by the opening of Veggie Pret in central London. The vegetarian-only Pret was originally set up as a month-long pop-up store and its sales were expected to slide by 30%. To the pleasant surprise of the chain, it actually went up by 70% and Veggie Pret has thus become a permanent shop.
There is no doubt about the rise of the plant-based industry. This year has seen plenty of exciting news in the sphere, including the launch of Beyond Burger and the multitude of veg-forward restaurants in the dining scene. What is more, meat and dairy producers are getting a slice of the pie, such as Tyson investing in Beyond Meat and Danone acquiring WhiteWave. That offers a glimmer of hope in the recent food scare about meat and the constant combat against climate change.
Bloomberg Businessweek: “How antibiotic-tainted seafood ends up on your table”
Beyond Burger was launched in Whole Foods Market in the USA under the meat section, and was sold out within one hour on the first day.
Other sustainable food trends to watch in 2017
In addition to plants, Mintel predicts that tackling food waste will be another food trend in the new year and the foremost frontiers is “ugly food”. The stigma of imperfect-looking produce has started to fade and services using such food have arisen. For example, Fruta Imperfeita, a Brazilian home delivery start-up, offers customers fruits and vegetables that cannot be sold at supermarkets. A new sharing economy will also appear as new delivery platforms allow home cooks to sell their food.