Return to Blog June 5, 2024

The Rise of Plant-Based Proteins


Over the past decade, plant-based protein foods, powders, and beverages have enjoyed a stunning rise in consumer preference.

The segment’s growth was first accelerated by a pandemic-era focus on health and then cemented by sustained inflationary pricing pressures in the meat and poultry segment. Today, alternative protein sources are quickly becoming fixtures in consumers’ homes worldwide.

Consumer preference, environmental concerns, and growing market opportunities make plant-based products a must-have for any competitive manufacturer.

Plant-based Proteins: The Basics

A person adds plant-based protein powder to a glass of non-dairy milk.

Proteins are combinations of amino acids. Each variation produces a unique protein, which provides health benefits based on the shape, size of the protein and the formulation of food or beverage products.

Historically, the knock on plant proteins has been their incomplete amino acid composition. The body naturally produces 11 amino acids, but the remaining nine amino acids that comprise protein are solely derived from dietary intake. Legumes, for example, lack two amino acids, while grains lack a key amino acid called lysine.

As a result, effective plant protein formulations often include more than one plant type to provide a complete protein.

The most common plant-based protein ingredients in commercial products today are derived from soy, pea, hemp seed, and quinoa. Soy and its variants, including tofu and tempeh, account for nearly half of all plant-based meat substitutes sold and account for an estimated market value of $9.4 billion.

What’s Driving the Plant-based Protein Push?

Like so many other things, the pandemic didn’t start the move toward healthier, more sustainable foods, but it certainly accelerated it. Not only did food-at-home spending increase by 55% in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, but consumers also spent more on healthy foods in the two years after COVID.

Since 2012, the number of vegetarians as a share of the US population has increased from 3% to 4-5%. Accounting for population increases, that’s a 44.2% increase in market size in a decade and an attractive niche for food and beverage manufacturers.

Health-conscious shoppers have good reason to choose plant-based meat substitutes. Compared to animal proteins, diets rich in plant-based proteins have several benefits, including:

  • Higher levels of vitamins and proteins.
  • More dietary fiber.
  • Reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

These benefits are exceptional value propositions for manufacturers seeking to meet consumer demand.

A Vegetarian/Vegan Dietary Preference

Plant-based proteins have also gained ground thanks to the increasing popularity of vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian diets. Historically, research claimed that these dietary choices may not include the recommended combination of amino acids to provide complete proteins.

But thanks in part to the many vegetarian and vegan protein alternatives available, including plant-based protein powders, studies show individuals on these diets have no trouble getting the protein they need.

The increasing variety of plant-based alternatives, combined with growing environmental awareness, is likely one in the growing share of vegetarians and vegans in the US.

A Cultural Shift Toward Alternative Proteins

Whether plant-based or lab-grown, alternative proteins have already captured substantial market share and space on the consumer’s table.

Suppliers, manufacturers and distributors like Tilley constantly explore new ways to improve these products across categories and position manufacturers to deliver the highest quality to retail shoppers, no matter the application.

Plant-Based “Meets” Solutions-Based at Tilley Distribution

Our deep technical expertise and industry insight position Tilley as an ideal distribution partner for all your plant-based ingredient needs. Learn more about our specialty ingredients and additional ways we help our customers succeed. With proprietary warehousing and transportation, plus dedicated customer service, we don’t just do things differently; we do things better. Speak with a Tilley representative today to get started.