In recent years, a notable transformation has been occurring on people’s plates and within their dietary habits. As sustainability concerns, health consciousness, and ethical considerations take centre stage, the world is witnessing a paradigm shift towards plant protein consumption. From legumes and lentils to soy and quinoa, plant-based protein sources are gaining recognition for their nutritional value, low environmental impact, and potential to shape a more sustainable future.

Dietary shifts

As highlighted in the 2022 FAO report, more individuals are embracing plant-based diets, such as vegetarian, vegan, or flexitarian approaches, often citing concerns for animal welfare and livestock’s impact on the environment. These diets prioritise plant proteins as the main source of protein, with reduced or eliminated consumption of animal-based protein sources. Within this growing trend towards plant-based diets, it is clear that individuals are increasingly recognizing the potential benefits for both their own health and the health of the planet.

Plant proteins going mainstream

There has been a significant increase in the availability and variety of plant-based protein alternatives in mainstream markets. This includes plant-based meat substitutes, dairy alternatives, and a wide range of plant-based protein powders, snacks, and ready-to-eat products. This expansion of options has made it easier for consumers to incorporate plant proteins into their diets. Recently in the article published in Vegconomist, InnovoPro and Ingredion announced they will soon showcase the first chickpea-based meat at the IFT First event. This is set to be “the world’s first” chickpea-based textured vegetable protein, with a fully plant-based Mexican menu. Continuous innovation in plant-based food technology has resulted in improved taste, texture, and variety of plant protein alternatives. Companies are developing innovative plant-based products that closely resemble the taste and experience of animal-based proteins, making the transition to plant proteins more appealing to consumers.

Rising consumer awareness of health benefits

Health-conscious consumers are embracing plant-based proteins for their lower saturated fat and cholesterol content, as well as their abundant supply of essential nutrients, fibre, and phytochemicals. This dietary shift towards whole, minimally processed plant proteins, including legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, supports overall well-being and fosters a preference for natural and unprocessed food sources. According to Everyday Health, one of the world’s most popular healthy diets is the Mediterranean diet — an eating plan rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, and healthy fats like nuts and olive oil. This diet limits red meat, processed foods, and added sugars, and registered dietitians tend to praise the plan for its heart and weight benefits.

Environmental and sustainability concerns

Growing awareness of the environmental impact of animal agriculture has also led to shifts in consumer behaviour. Concerns about deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and water usage associated with animal-based protein production have prompted consumers to seek more sustainable alternatives in the form of plant proteins.

The evolving consumer behaviour and dietary shifts indicate a rising fascination with plant proteins and alternative protein sources. These shifts are influenced by factors such as health awareness, environmental sustainability, ethical considerations, and the wide range of plant-based options now available.

The VALPRO Path project aims to identify gaps in the plant protein landscape and establish effective practices to maximise environmental, social, health, and economic benefits while minimising waste and boosting yields. Additionally, this project is set to drive a transformation in consumer attitudes towards alternative sources of dietary protein.