- Burgers and milks from companies like Beyond Meat have popularized “plant-based” as a marketing term for alternatives to animal-based foods.
- But increasingly plant-based and related terms are being used to sell a wider variety of foods, from almonds to fruit juices to hot-dog substitutes made from carrots.
- Brands point to alternative uses for the term, such as signifying that their products are free from artificial ingredients.
- Executives and experts say the term could lose its meaning if the industry can’t agree on a definition, sending it the way of “all natural” and other terms that have lost currency.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
When Laura Jakobsen, the chief executive of Tea Riot, and her team were formulating a new energy drink last year, their goal was to steer clear of any ingredients that were synthesized in a lab.
The caffeine in their beverage came from tea, and they opted for Vitamin B12 derived from mushrooms and algae.
When it came time to market the new drink, Jackobsen and company didn’t add terms like “all natural” or “no artificial ingredients” to the label. Instead, they sell Tea Riot Energy as a drink that’s “100% plant powered.”
“When we interacted with customers and showed them the can in half a second, that messaging to them said, ‘Oh, this is a clean-ingredient beverage — it doesn’t have any crap in it,'” Jakobsen told Business Insider in an interview.
Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have popularized the term “plant-based” in recent years with burgers, nuggets, and other substitutes to describe foods that historically have come from animals.
Increasingly, other food companies started using the descriptor and close variants for products that have always been plant-based, or even some that actually contain animal proteins, often in hopes of standing out in grocery aisles and getting consumers to pay a premium over rival brands.
Today, you can find crackers, beverages, cleaning products, vitamins, and supplements all labeled plant-based.
So why are so many products suddenly plant-based?
Part of the proliferation of the plant-based label for food brands is in the sales-growth potential. In the US, plant-based-food sales grew 11% in 2019 to become a $5 billion industry, and analysts estimate that they could grow to several times that within the next decade.
“The reason they’re doing it is they’ve seen the data that we have,” said Michele Simon, the founder and executive director at the Plant Based Foods Association, or PBFA. “It’s no secret to anyone following the food industry that plant-based foods are strongly growing and skyrocketing in popularity.”
Some experts say the term is being overused and risks going the way of “all natural” and other food terms that have lost meaning with consumers. Like many terms used to market food, plant-based and related phrases…