As we hurtle towards 2021 and Veganuary, it’s a good time to look back at the vegan trends of 2020, and look forward to 2021. Founder of Stem and Glory Louise Palmer-Masterton predicts a year for healthier fake meat and vegan seafood…
Without doubt 2020 was the year of plant-based ‘meat’, attracting not only consumer attention but also large-scale investor attention. The IPO of US brand ‘Beyond Meat’ was the best performing first-day IPO in nearly two decades. The UK brand THIS™ Seedrs campaign was the fastest ever campaign to hit £1.5m+ and closed on £4.5m in a matter of days.
Investors, it seems, are falling over themselves to invest in the plant-based space, and we’re seeing an ever-growing number of vegan and ethical investment firms. I have spoken to a few of them, along with leading vegan chefs, to take a look at where the market is heading.
2020 wasn’t only the year of plant-based meat launches, it was also the year that all the major UK supermarkets introduced or expanded their own vegan ranges, and the year that, through sheer demand, all UK food outlets were compelled to have greater plant-based offerings.
So where is it we see new products starting to gain ground, and where do we see vegan products in the UK heading in 2021?
Healthier Fake ‘Meat’
We’ve come a long way in terms of plant-based meat, but let’s face it, these are all processed, and don’t contain the same nutritional profile as their animal counterparts.
What we know about good health is that you need a diet high in natural protein and low in refined carbs, so this is a big challenge to plant-based alternatives. The wake-up call to this is already beginning to happen, and we predict that 2021 will be the year we start to see a trend in the direction of healthier, less processed animal alternatives.
We are putting our energy into a trend which is sneaking in through the back door. Ed Al Subaei, executive Chef at Stem & Glory, is a genius at creating fake ‘meat’ out of vegetables, instead of highly processed ingredients. For example, he makes a show-stopping ‘ham’ from smoked celeriac sheets, and ‘chorizo’ from beetroot.
This is something that struck me way back when I became vegan. It isn’t always the meat that is the reason you like a certain dish, it’s a combination of layers of flavour, and if you can create those same layers of flavour from non-animal products, you really can create the same taste sensation.
I was in Amsterdam in February 2020 and it was there I had my first experience of vegan ‘sashimi’. I admit I had very low expectations of the first piece I put in my mouth. These however were immediately dispelled. It was quite tasty, and very moreish.
Aside from this experience, the vegan seafood movement does seem to be following a similar trajectory to vegan meat, in that seafood junk – deep fried scampi, deep fried vegan shrimp, fish burgers, and fish goujons – is popular in both supermarkets and early adopter food outlets. We are, however, starting to see better quality attempts at vegan salmon, tuna and even caviar, with greater attention to health and natural ingredients.
Vegan Ready Meals
The supermarket shelves are choc-a-bloc with vegan products but one gap appears to be quality ready meals. Tesco has been ahead of the game here with their Wicked range, which has ready meals as well as products. But for me personally, having sampled the offerings from all the major supermarkets, I am not convinced by taste or quality.
As mentioned above, all too often products are veganised simply by removing the animal products, without much attention to the taste, and in many cases the texture. At Stem & Glory we are in development mode for our new ready meal range which does have a focus on taste and texture, as well as innovative dishes. The aim is to bring restaurant quality to supermarket shelves and raise the bar on vegan ready meals.
This is the absolute holy grail at the moment, and the race is on to be the first company that creates a plant-based cheese that has the same taste and texture as dairy cheese. The noise in the plant-based cheese space is getting louder with each passing week. Personally speaking, I feel there is a long way to go, BUT 2021 could see this start to change, as a few brands are now on the verge of creating an authentic product with an engineered cow’s milk.
I checked in on this subject with Reuben Waller from Plant Candi, a well-known vegan chef. He believes ‘the slow demise of the traditional dairy business will provide a marked contrast with the rise of products such as laboratory engineered cow’s milk, which will signal a seismic shift for the vegan cheese market’. This echoes our view too. Imagine if you could get the full variety of cheese that we’ve all been brought up on tasting exactly the same as the animal counterpart, but made 100% from plants. What a huge change would come. ‘Not being able to give up cheese’ is given as the number one reason for flexitarians not becoming vegan, so this would be a game changer.
These are my top trends to watch for in 2021, but to finish I would just like to throw in one overarching trend which will underpin all others; sustainability. To date, plant-based has been labelled, by sole virtue of it being ‘made from plants’, as ‘sustainable’. Is something sustainable just because it is plant-based?
We believe that 2021 will be the year that this comes fully under scrutiny. If we do this audit, customers will feel safe knowing they are making ethical and more sustainable buying choices. And as we all know, this in turn will be good for business.
Louise Palmer-Masterton is founder of Stem & Glory. Instagram: @stemandglory