Food

4 Reasons Why Plant-Based Protein Will Be a Major 2017 Food Trend

For vegans, it's going to be a good year. For meat-eaters, a chance to expand horizons.

Various legumes and different kinds of nutshells in spoons. Walnuts kernels ,hazelnuts, almond ,brown pinto ,soy beans ,flax seeds ,chia ,chickpea ,red kidney beans and pecan on shabby wooden table.
Photo Credit: Kerdkanno/Shutterstock

The United Nations declared 2016 to be International Year of Pulses—dry peas, lentils and chickpeas. These hearty legumes were called out because they’re affordable, have a lower eco-footprint than animal products and are nutritious. The campaign received international news coverage and chefs around the world began to incorporate more pulse-based options in their menus.

But from dining rooms to board rooms, it turns out that 2016 wasn’t just the year of the pulse, it was also the year of plant proteins. Here are four reasons why plant-based proteins stole the show in 2016 and how they'll be a major food trend in 2017.

1. New plant-based proteins sprouting.

Two plant-based burgers that “bleed”—the Impossible burger and Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger—stole headlines in 2016. The Impossible burger made its debut at a handful of restaurants in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles to great enthusiasm. Traci Des Jardins, chef and owner of Jardiniere, one restaurant that offered the burger, said lines formed outside her restaurant for several hours, leading the restaurant to sell out so quickly it started issuing tickets to try the new burger.

At its grocery store debut in a Boulder, Colorado Whole Foods Market, the Beyond Burger sold out in an hour.

2. Meat industry gets into the game.

One of the world’s biggest meat companies, Tyson Foods, made heads turn in 2016 when it announced it was investing in the protein alternative company Beyond Meat. Weeks later it announced it was launching its own $150 million venture capital fund that will support plant-based foods.

In the land of bratwurst and wienerschnitzel, Germany’s meat producers are seeking to stay ahead of the growing market for plant-based proteins. Some of the largest sausage companies are diversifying their offerings with plant-based versions of meaty favorites.

3. Restaurants changing plates.

In the year's “13 Hottest Food & Beverage Trends” report, international food and restaurant consultants Baum and Whiteman predicts, “Vegetables in 2017 will extend their domination of the dinner plate, shoving animal protein to the edges ... or off the plate altogether. You can gauge the growing impact of veg-centric dining when you discover a steakhouse scrapping sides and moving vegetables to the middle of the menu."

Getting in on the action, Taco Bell released a “How to eat vegan at Taco Bell” guide and boasted that the popular fast-food chain offers 5.7 million vegetarian combinations. 

In the United Kingdom, ubiquitous coffee and sandwich chain Pret A Manger opened a Veggie Pret popup that performed so well it announced it’s here to stay with plans to open a permanent Veggie Pret in 2017. "We were so overwhelmed by the public response that we kept it open," CEO Clive Schlee said.

4. Global governments are encouraging change.

In new dietary guidelines issued last year, China’s health ministry recommended its citizens reduce their meat consumption. The government’s plan would have citizens reduce their meat intake by half in an effort to improve public health and slash greenhouse gas emissions.

The French government is boosting investment to support alternative proteins and aims to invest a billion euros on future proteins like plant proteins and microalgae.

Turns out, eating less meat and more plant-based foods is a great way to save money, too. Research in Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition found that vegetarians can save at least $750 more than those who eat meat every year. It’s as easy as practicing the Three Rs: reducing or replacing consumption of animal products, and refining our diets by switching to products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards.

In the interest of staying ahead of trends in 2017—and saving some dough—something we can all do is enjoy more delicious meat-free meals.

Kristie Middleton is the senior food policy director for The Humane Society of the United States and the author of MeatLess: Transform the Way You Eat and Live—One Meal at a Time (2017, Da Capo Press). She lives in Oakland.

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