Eating vegan or vegetarian hasn’t historically had the most appetizing reputation. Many of the first vegan products on the market found themselves being compared to the taste and texture of cardboard. Otherwise, most folks were making beans and rice, perhaps salads. And if you weren’t an excellent cook, things got all the more challenging – boiled carrots tend to get old quickly.
But this has changed – dramatically. There has been an influx of consumer interest in plant-based food, especially among younger generations, and the growing curiosity has blossomed enormously following tremendous innovation in the sector.
According to recent Prosper Insights & Analytics Survey consumer data:
- 9.9% of American adults (20.7 million people) in May 2021 were buying more meatless products, foods, and meals. That is a 20.7% increase from May 2018.
- 10.3% of millennials (7.4 million people) in August 2021 were buying more meatless products, foods, or meals in August 2021.
- 12.4% of American adults in August 2021 were buying more organic food.
- 26.5% of American adults in August 2021 were watching their caloric intake.
- 8.5% of GenZ (5.7 million people) and 9.5% of Millennials in August 2021 reported being vegan or vegetarian.
I recently spoke with Ahmad Yehya, CEO of Nabati Foods, a fast-growing plant-based food manufacturer, to learn more about these trends and how Nabati Foods is competing across grocery, foodservice, industrial, and eCommerce channels.
Gary Drenik: We are seeing increased interest in plant-based eating, what do you believe is driving this shift?
Ahmad Yehya: There is a confluence of factors at play that are driving this shift. Firstly, there are clear and proven health benefits that come from reducing animal products in one’s diet including lower risk of certain cancers, obesity, diabetes, heart disease. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, people are paying closer attention to their health than ever before.
Environmental stewardship is also becoming increasingly important to consumers, and given the large carbon consequences of animal agriculture, we are starting to realize that the way we’ve been doing things simply is not sustainable. This has led more people to seek out ways to integrate more plant-based options into their diets.
Drenik: What is the most important thing for food companies to consider as they navigate these new consumer tastes?
Yehya: It is important for brands to be authentic. The modern consumer is no longer so easily swayed by clever advertising – they are seeking brands that resonate with what they believe in. Sustainable sourcing and eco-friendly practices are embedded throughout our supply chain, and we apply our Nabati Foods R&D process to compete globally in a way that doesn’t compromise on those values.
Brands should also recognize that while we all want healthier and more sustainable options – the truth is that if the taste and experience aren’t on par with the traditional animal-based alternatives – people aren’t going to choose the plant-based options. The key really is to create options that don’t feel like a trade-off – so you don’t feel like you are choosing something less satisfying. If it’s not satisfying, it is not sustainable. When we created our Nabati Plant Eggz™, we knew that we wanted it to be a liquid product that offered a similar taste, consistency, and cooking experience as chicken eggs. They can be used in all of the same recipes, in all of the same proportions – and are even nutritionally comparable to chicken eggs, while also uniquely being free of both gluten and soy.
Drenik: Are these trends only at the grocery store? Or does it go beyond that?
Yehya: Grocery and eCommerce are key, because most everyone makes a good portion of their meals at home, especially anyone who is conscious of their health. We have definitely seen the number of plant-based options available in grocery stores growing. Obviously, the pandemic has fueled massive online shopping growth, and many customers are enjoying that convenience. But I do think that foodservice channels have a large role to play here because eating out can be an opportunity for the consumer to try something new that they might not have tried cooking at home. I think once we started seeing plant-based burgers taking off in restaurants, more people were open to cooking them at home, and now it’s becoming increasingly the norm for restaurants to serve a broader range of vegan items.
We originally created Nabati Cheeze Shredz plant-based cheeses with pizza in mind, and that really drove us to develop a product that could offer the same experience. Our Nabati Cheeze melts like real cheese and tastes like the real thing too. This is a great example of a product that can easily make the cross-over from grocery to foodservice, or from foodservice to grocery. We distribute it in grocery stores, but also in a variety of foodservice restaurants that serve pizza, Mexican food, and more. These qualities also make this type of innovation ideal for industrial food channels, because it integrates beautifully into recipes. Keeping this flexibility in mind will help brands to better weather major changes in consumer behavior.
Drenik: There are so many diverse ways of eating and many different dietary restrictions, how important is it for companies to monitor these shifts?
Yehya: It’s definitely important. You want to give the consumers what they want. I think we’ve seen food companies get exposed trying to hop on the latest trend without having the proper R&D to behind the products. One of our core values at Nabati Foods is that we believe that food should bring people together, not divide us. So, we set out to create foods that everyone can enjoy together, regardless of their dietary preferences and restrictions, and this commitment is embedded into our extensive R&D process. All of our products are kosher, vegan, egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, and made without GMOs or refined sugar.
Drenik: What’s next for Nabati Foods?
Yehya: Nabati Foods started in our home kitchen. We were frustrated with being unable to find healthy dessert items at the grocery store, so we decided to make our own recipes, and now our products are launching around the world. I think that we have succeeded because we created something that solved a real problem, and this is what we will continue to do. We are focused on continuing to innovate and expand our product line, while also expanding our distribution globally. Nabati Foods commenced trading on the Canadian Securities Exchange in October (CSE: MEAL), which means that it is possible for our consumers to participate in the growth of the company by investing in our success and enjoying our expanding product line.