The plant-based food market is experiencing tremendous growth, with US retail sales totaling $4.5 billion over the past year, growing by 11%, according to the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) and The Good Food Institute.
PBFA said the plant-based category is booming, generating more than five times the dollar sales growth of the overall US retail food market, which saw just a 2% gain during the same period. The trend was similar for unit sales, with plant-based foods posting growth of 8.5% versus flat results for the overall retail food market.
Technology driving the fourth revolution in agriculture
A report from UBS details how farming could change in the next decade. Analysts predict the way we produce food is going to change rapidly, in part due to changing tastes for alternative meat sources. Cutting edge technology in vertical farming, lab-grown food, and artificial intelligence are expected to deliver a new generation of food production.
"Overall, we estimate the food innovation opportunity represents a $700 billion market by 2030," according to the report. Technical advances and an increase in farming startups and food innovation, led by the US in terms of investment as key drivers. UBS Group AG says with the broad market for agriculture technology is on pace to expand more than five fold, and they predict the plant-protein market will jump from 4.6 billion now, to $85 billion by 2030.
Appetite for plant-based protein
As more consumers move away from animal products, the market for plant-based protein is set to explode over the next decade. Part of that plant-based protein explosion is the lupini bean, or lupin, the legume seeds of the genus Lupinus. Lupini beans are versatile and hearty, known for their dense texture and very high protein content.
There are 12 lupin species within the Lupinus genus, all of which are native to Europe and the Mediterranean regions. Three of these are now fully domesticated for agriculture: the Australian sweet lupin, Lupinus angustifolius, the European white lupin, Lupinus albus and the yellow lupin, Lupinus luteus.
Australia is the world’s largest producer of Australian sweet lupin – with Australian farmers producing about one million tons of the grain each year. In the past 20 years, Australia has exported more than 15 million tons of Australian sweet lupin to countries all over the world including Spain,The Netherlands, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Taiwan. Now, one supplier is hoping to spread the seed over North America.
CK Nutraceuticals just launched a new line of lupin bean ingredients. Their offerings include flour, grits, and flakes, available in various textures and an organic option.
Colleen Madden, Director of Innovation at CK Nutraceuticals, says not only is the lupin bean nutritious, it is also the only keto-friendly bean out there. “It's a really interesting ingredient that is pretty common and popular in Australia and also in Europe, but just now coming to North America, so we're really excited to launch it here. It’s great to find out that it’s the only keto bean. Beans are usually high in starch and that's one of the things that's really unusual about Lupin. The protein is really high, it’s 40% and the fiber is also really high, around 30% until net carbs are extremely low.”
Madden, who is also a food process engineer, says the company started focusing on lupin because of it’s great nutritional profile and the fact that it’s keto-friendly is just a bonus. “We didn’t know to use the word ‘keto’ until recently. So it can sit in this keto category and that's where we're getting the most traction right now because the keto diet is very popular.”
Lupin is a gluten-free, low carb, minimally processed, plant-based protein that contains essential amino acids and prebiotic. But is it palatable?
Madden says she feeds it to her family regularly. “Our flakes are the same size and shape and functionality of a thick cut rolled out, so that opens up a lot of potential because of the great textural advantages that you get from using a product like this. Personally, I love baking with flakes because oats are one my favorite ingredients. I love feeding oats to my family, so when I found out lupin flakes are similar to rolled oats, but they’re basically three times nutritious as oats, I fell in love with Lupin flakes, as a product developer and as a mom.”
Innovation and increasing consumer awareness
Climate change and its impact on agriculture have led to a heightened emphasis on sustainability. While lupin may have made a late entry into the health-trend world, Madden says she’s seeing a shift in consumer awareness.
“I believe that the sustainability focus that we are moving toward as a culture will help us to appreciate a wider range of plant based proteins in general. It's getting more integrated into our culture, I feel like even a couple months ago there was more of a fringe understanding. So the plant-based protein interest is really, truly becoming mainstream. Some people before would have never said the words ‘plant-based protein’ - it just never would have occurred to them. You say ‘protein’ and they think ’hamburger’ right? (laughs). So it’s a cultural shift.”
Consumers today demand transparency and are ever more interested in where their food comes from, how it’s produced and its nutritional value. The plant-based sector is growing and everyone wants a piece of the market.
“It’s really exciting to be at the forefront with a really innovative ingredient like this because it has so much potential.”
You can download the UBS report here: