It’s a good time to be in the plant-based food business

Plant-based foods have come a long way, and business is growing and growing

This is great time to be in the plant-based foods business, and not just because Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have gotten attention for their meat substitutes lately. Local entrepreneurs say consumers looking for variety in their diet are driving the current trend, and turning the nonmeat category into a booming business.

Manufacturers say young consumers are driving the trend. “Millennials are really on top of the plant-based diet trend, and not only for health reasons,” says Malina Farias, founder of Peaceful Rebel Vegan Cheese in Denver. “They are interested in saving the planet, in stopping global warming.”

According to a 2016 study by Development Research Partners, 24% of the region’s population consists of millennials. The region includes metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) of Boulder, Fort Collins, Greeley and the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood MSA.

Grocery retailers are adapting to the trend and offering more plant-based items. “They are catching on,” Farias says.

Fresh food sales are growing more than sales of center store, shelf-stable items. That has helped boost sales of plant-based alternatives to sour cream and nacho cheese, says Jeremy Day, CEO and co-founder of The Honest Stand in Louisville. “Our area, spreads and dips, is the fastest growing subcategory, up 52% year over year,” he says, citing SPINS data. “People are looking for nostalgic comfort food, but they want less animal products in their life.” The company’s dips are organic, paleo and gluten free, hitting several key trends.

The vegan population has not grown over the years, says Doug Radi, CEO of Good Karma Foods in Boulder. Instead, consumers are identifying as flexitarian. “They are looking for a more balanced, healthy lifestyle and are making tradeoffs of animal calories and plant calories.” In fact, Port Washington, New York-based The NPD Group reports that 90% of plant-based users are neither vegetarian nor vegan, but are consumers seeking options.

It helps that the products taste as good as the dairy or meat versions. “Taste is king,” Radi says. The company makes flax milk, dairy-free sour cream, yogurt, dip and other products. “Colorado is a very food-forward market in organic and natural products, and has been for a while.”

Manufacturers say they are coming up with new products in the coming year. “You’re going to see a lot of evolution,” Day says.

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