The Hunger for Vegan, Vegetarian Foods

Vegetarian and vegan eating are getting more common as concern grows for personal health, animal rights and the environment.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

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Though we eat more meat than any other population in the world, Americans' appetite for vegan and vegetarian foods is voracious. Mintel reports about 36 percent of consumers say they're buying meat alternatives and plant-based foods, and The Huffington Post reports some 16-plus million people consider themselves vegan or vegetarian.

In 2012, Americans ate 12.2 percent less meat than five years earlier, and 12 percent of the global food and drink products launched in 2013 carried a vegetarian claim, up from 6 percent in 2009, according to Huffington Post. In 2014, the Huffington Post predicted that by 2050, America may be a "vegan country" – or at least a significant percentage of Americans will be vegans.

Just last month the Plant Based Foods Assn. formed in Washington, D.C.

Our emergent love of plant-based foods and the healthy, organic, clean-label food movements are prompting mainstream food producers to slip in more veggies. In 2015, more than 100 plant-based meat substitutes were introduced in grocery stores, according to Supermarketnews.com.

"These foods are exploding in traditional supermarkets," points out Greg Blake, co-owner of Daiya Foods, Vancouver, British Columbia, founded to create plant-based dairy alternatives. Its Greek Yogurt Alternative, Supreme Pizza, cheese-like shreds, slices and blocks are available in the dairy case and freezer aisle, while its Cheezy Mac is shelf-stable. At Natural Products Expo West, Daiya launched a line of dairy-, egg- and gluten-free plant-based dressings in Creamy Caesar, Blue Cheeze and Homestyle Ranch varieties, as well as a new Pepperoni Style pizza entirely made from plants.

"The most beneficial ingredients are probably plant-based proteins," says Blake. "Given the recent declaration from the World Health Organization that processed and red meat cause cancer, the trend to increase vegetable and fruit consumption and reduce red and processed meat consumption will likely continue."

Vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians

How can you tell vegans apart from vegetarians? Vegetarians consume dairy products and eggs. Vegans avoid all animal products, including eggs and dairy, and often animal-based nonfood items such as leather, wool and silk. Vegetarianism usually refers to diet, and is frequently adhered to for health reasons and food safety, as vegetarian diets often incorporate high-fiber, low-carb foods and few saturated fats.

To be vegan is more of an ethical, lifestyle choice. But the vegan product category should grow at an average 13.4 percent thorough 2020, says a report in latestvegan news. Vegan products are no longer niches, Blake adds. "Vegan represents a healthier choice for your body, it's good for the planet and animals, and it's more sustainable in terms of feeding an ever expanding population. People are increasingly aware of these issues and how their food choices have an impact."

Flexitarians eat meat occasionally. They're part of the trend of Meatless Mondays − serving veggie burgers or other vegetarian meals at least once a week. This trend is becoming popular with half of the country, according to The Huffington Post.

"Consumers are questioning the foods they’re putting into their bodies and looking for options to meet their needs," says Yves Potvin, founder and president of Gardein Protein International, Richmond, British Columbia. "Meatless Mondays are a simple way to make a huge impact on your health and the health of the planet. If every American ate meatless just one day per week, it would be the equivalent to taking a half million cars off the road."

Now owned by Pinnacle Foods, Gardein makes vegan products with non-GMO soy, wheat and vegetables. Its convenient new meatless pepperoni pizza pockets, which debuted in March, are filled with marinara sauce, meatless pepperoni and vegan mozz’rella. Each pocket has 9g of certified vegan plant protein and is cholesterol-free.

"There are four main factors that explain the increase in plant-based diets and their popularity," Potvin says. "The recent food safety scandals, the rise in allergies and [gluten and dairy] intolerances, increasing awareness of the ethical and environmental impact of meat and the consistent focus on health and wellness."

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