The big shift: how plant-based food disrupts the market

plant based, vegan, vegetarian

Vegan and vegetarian food alternatives are a trend with staying power. As consumers increasingly shift their behavior to become more environmentally friendly, they also become more conscious about their food choices. And it is true: according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, the global meat industry is responsible for more than 14,5% of all human-caused CO² Emissions worldwide (Source: This blog discusses the impacts of meat production on the climate, plus the latest trends and developments in the plant-based market.

Earth Overshoot Day

One of our society’s most serious problems is the environmental crisis, which continues to deteriorate yearly. Especially the squandering use of resources by humanity has become a reoccurring subject of discussion. One day that leads us to awareness of how wasteful we are dealing with our earth’s biocapacity is Earth Overshoot Day. Earth Overshoot Day marks a specific day when humanity has used all the biological resources that our planet regenerates during the entire year. This year, Earth Overshoot Day was already on 28 July – and it will be earlier each year if we don’t change our behavior. But how is this day connected with plant-based food? Let’s get into the details!

“Inside every seed is the potential for an incredible harvest.” – Farrah Gray

Market growth is driven by consumer consciousness

As you know, consumers have great potential to make a large-scale impact on our climate. How we produce, distribute, and consume food has a massive impact on our sustainable development and might decide whether we can keep global warming at, or a shade below, 2 degrees Celsius. The way we produce food globally is one of the significant factors for resource inefficiency. To give you an idea: if we reduced global meat consumption by 50%, overshoot day could be moved 17 days back (Source:

Meat: climate killer?

Is meat a climate killer? Unfortunately, eating a large amount of meat is not the most sustainable food choice. Experts say the most environmentally-friendly way of consuming food is Lacto-vegetarian choices that have been produced and harvested regionally (Source: Havard). But, of course, most of us are not aiming to be perfect. The problem with our global meat production is that we use too many resources. Most of us are familiar with carbon, but what about our water footprint?

First: let’s discuss the carbon footprint. According to studies, it takes around 11 times as much fossil fuel to produce a calorie of animal protein compared to a calorie of gain protein. Hence, meat production releases considerably more carbon dioxide (Source: Peta). Farm animals, especially cows, produce extremely high amounts of methane. Cows alone produce 7 gigatonnes of carbon emissions each year (Source: Financial Times).

However, the water footprint for meat production is not much better. For example, producing one kg of beef requires 15,415 liters of water, but the cultivation of vegetables requires, on average, only around 322 liters per kg, and fruits around 962 liters (Source: World Economic Forum). Therefore, it is not surprising that sustainability-conscious consumers are increasingly turning to vegetarian and vegan alternatives. To keep up, manufacturers need to rethink operations and prepare for sustainable options.

Market update: growth and trends

One thing is for sure, the demand for plant-based food is skyrocketing. Reacting fast is a challenge for manufacturers, as they need to re-consider their traditional production processes to respond flexibly to meet evolving consumer tastes. This can also be seen as a considerable advantage, as food producers can adjust and transition their production lines to be future-proof. So, which areas are trending and worth investing in?

In general, the market is strongly characterized by many new market entries, especially from small companies with a dedicated image towards sustainability. The product offer ranges from plant-based milk and meat alternatives to desserts, sweets, and much more. The global plant-based food market will reach 77.8 billion US dollars in 2025. The forecast projects that by 2030 the market will have more than doubled. By 2022, the market worth is estimated to reach 44.2 billion US dollars (Source: Statista).

Value of the plant-based food market worldwide from 2020 to 2030 (Source: Statista)

Plant-based milk alternatives: oat wins

In Asia, soy milk has long been a top-rated product. It is the “classic” in the field of plant-based milk alternatives. But in the meantime, a completely different milk alternative is en vogue: oat milk. The benefits: healthier, lactose-free, and, of course, more sustainable. Sustainable packaging of plant-based food and drinks is an essential consideration for manufacturers as it’s a key criterion for customers. Aseptic carton packaging is one of the most sustainable packaging formats on the ambient shelf, as they are recyclable and come mainly from renewable sources. If this is a topic of interest, don’t miss this exciting article about plant-based food packaging from our Partner IPI here.

Realistic meat and seafood alternatives on the rise

Real taste and zero sugar. Coke made the impossible possible. It is normal to enjoy soft drinks without calories – it has become normal. Will it be the same for plant-based meat? The latest developments in meat alternatives are promising. They are almost perfect substitutes with enhanced characteristics. Whoever had the chance to try an Impossible Burger or a Beyond Meat patty knows real taste nowadays can be compromised with a plant-based diet. Another trend that’s on the rise is plant-based seafood. Products such as the vegan alternative for tuna called “Thun-Vish” by Nestlé’s veggie brand Garden Gourmet are real product innovations.

What happens when demand outperforms supply?

A fascinating development is that in the last 2-3 years, companies focusing mainly on selling meat products are achieving greater sales with meat alternatives than with their core business for the first time. Of course, this also means that the production lines must be adaptable and flexible to new processing methods, packaging formats, and products.

Focus on efficiency

Building your manufacturing lines as flexibly as possible when planning your new production layout is recommended. A high degree of automation, for example, allows production to be changed with minimal disruptions. If you buy flexible equipment and design your production processes accordingly, it enables fast reconfiguration. This allows you to react flexibly to changing consumer trends. This also includes considering change over time as part of equipment selection criteria. Furthermore, it is crucial to consider an environment-friendly use of resources. To ensure this, consider purchasing high-efficiency equipment, including conveyors and a smart line design.

Your partner for industrial automation and robotics

At FlexLink, we help support these very changes. We at FlexLink have become passionate about our environmental and sustainability concerns. One simple way has been becoming a member of the Plant Based Foods Association, where we can collaborate on ideas and fulfilling sustainability solutions. We know how each step within a food process affects our environment. Contact us, and we’ll help you to find the right solutions regarding automated production flows and sustainability.

Being part of Coesia enriches our experience in developing customized solutions for the FMCG industry. As a group, we can deliver combined expertise also thanks to partnerships among its member companies. With our sister company IPI, a worldwide leader in the Packaging Industry for milk- and milk alternatives, we can provide turn-key solutions.  

Sarah Florence Allenspach 12 Articles
Sarah Florence Allenspach is the Content Marketing Leader at FlexLink. With more than 7 years of B2B digital marketing experience, she is responsible for planning, developing, and executing the overall content marketing strategy.

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