11 Plant-Based and Alternative Protein Trends

A look back on what happened in 2021 and what to expect in 2022.

December 01, 2021

Plant Based Burger

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The plant-based and alternative protein trends are not exiting the food scene anytime soon. In some ways, they’re just getting started. Forbes lists 11 plant-based and alternative trends that were significant developments in 2021 and what the magazine expects to see more of 2022.

Veggie-meat hybrid foods: To cater to flexitarians, meat companies are producing hybrid meat-veggie foods, which are a combination of meat and vegetables. Applegate has released its Well Carved line of burger patties and meatballs that include veggies like cauliflower and kale, so consumers are eating less meat and getting more of their veggies in.

Better vegan butter: Miyoko’s Creamery, maker of plant-based dairy alternatives, won a federal court lawsuit that allowed it to use words such as “milk” or vegan “butter.” The court agreed that language is flexible and fluid, especially as it applies to rapidly changing aspects of culture, and the dairy industry doesn’t have an exclusive claim to those words. Brands like Miyoko’s will have freedom to experiment with new products, ingredients and marketing strategies moving forward.

Potato Milk: Yes, potato milk. Waitrose named potato milk a trending product for 2022 in its recent year-end annual projection. Forbes suggests retailers “keep an eye out and an open mind toward new and surprising innovations in plant milk and other products.”

Healing mushrooms: Buzzwords like “adaptogens” and “nootropics” have been tossed around the health scene, and they refer to a category of substances which help the human body return to homeostasis and mitigate stress. The focus has been placed on functional mushrooms like reishi, lion’s mane and cordyceps, and mushroom coffees, teas and tonics are on trend.

Veggie-friendly food service: More fast-food companies are offering vegetarian or vegan options. In 2021, Long John Silver’s, Panda Express and Little Caesar’s all partnered with plant-based brands like Field Roast and Beyond Meat to release their first modern veggie options, like orange chick’n and meat-free pepperoni. More programs are expected to launch and existing ones to expand in 2022.

Plant-based gourmet: On the other end of the restaurant spectrum, fine dining is getting into the plant-based game. For example, Eleven Madison Park reopened this summer with an all-vegan menu, and the Met gala served exclusively vegan food designed by up-and-coming culinary talent.

Moving toward a zero-waste future: Austrian nutritionist and food scientist Hanni Rützler predicts that 2022 will see a renewed interest in sustainable practices that cut back on trash production. Many plant-based brands are moving toward producing little to zero waste, including No Evil Foods and Sacred Serve brands, who have reduced or eliminated their use of plastic from the brand packaging.

Healthier plant-based meats: Plant-based meats have drawn criticism due to some being processed, largely composed of oil and high sodium and saturated fat content. Plant-based companies are attempting to clean up their labels in hopes of capturing the increasingly skeptical consumer. Beyond Meat debuted a new burger formulation that contains 35% less fat than their original ground, and Nowadays, which makes plant-based nuggets, boasts that its product contains only seven ingredients, at just 120 calories but 13 grams of protein per serving.

More intersectional collaborations: Forbes predicts that we will see more mission aligned, non-food brands jump on board the plant-based wagon and spearhead collaborations that interconnect human health challenges and environmental concerns. For example, PopSockets, which is known for grips that attach to phones, will be collaborating with The Partnership for a Healthier America to celebrate the power of plants and provide fresh fruits and vegetables to families facing food insecurity through a “Plant Positive” initiative.

Cell-cultured meat—in stores?: While cell-cultured meat, also called cultivated, cell-based, clean and lab-grown meat, is technically not plant-based—it’s grown from and comprised of animal cells. Israeli company Future Meat opened a new production facility earlier this year and aims to have cell-cultured meat on shelves at American grocery stores in 2022.

Fermentation, the next frontier: Food technology is starting to use fermentation technology to create foods that would traditionally be products of industrial animal agriculture. Brave Robot has developed a fermentation technique to make whey without cows. Juice franchise Pressed began selling animal-free egg white protein in partnership with The EVERY Company, also using a fermentation method to replicate animal protein without involving any actual animals.

NACS Magazine explored how meatless options, including meat, dairy and snack products, are attracting health-focused customers to c-stores.