The Next Stage of Plant-Based Growth

Most of the licensing and collaboration activity in the growing plant-based food sector to date has involved celebrity-connected vegan meal kits and extensions of existing partnerships into the vegan and vegetarian space (e.g. Breyers adding an almond milk ice cream to its licensed Oreo line).

As the plant-based food industry grows, the role of licensing and partnership is evolving, with more brand-extension deals starting to emerge. Since the beginning of 2022, three plant-based food brands have utilized licensing deals, joint ventures, or limited collaborations to expand their IP into adjacent food categories:

  • In January, Danone licensed Cold Stone Creamery to offer two in-store products based on its Silk brand. Silk Chocolate Almondmilk Frozen Dessert and Don’t Cry Over Spilled Silk, a sundae consisting of the aforementioned frozen dessert with banana, peanut butter, and roasted almonds, are both permanent menu items. The agreement marks Cold Stone’s first entry into plant-based offerings and Silk’s first foray into frozen desserts.
  • Plant-based chocolate brand Love Raw paired with vegan ice cream brand Beau’s Gelato for a limited-edition Love Raw Gelato Box, including two flavors: The Cre&m One, featuring Love Raw Hazelnut Cre&m Wafer in Beau’s Praline Gelato, and The Butter Cup One, consisting of Love Raw Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups in Beau’s Peanut Gelato, swirled with caramel. The collaboration, available in the U.K., was timed to the 2022 edition of Veganuary, a challenge started by a British non-profit to encourage consumers to follow a plant-based diet for the 31 days of January.
  • This month, PLANeT Partnership announced its first product, a plant-based jerky in three flavors, to be sold under the Beyond Meat brand. Beyond Meat, one of the leading plant-based “meat” brands in the U.S., had partnered with PepsiCo in January 2021 for the PLANeT Partnership joint venture, with a mission to develop and bring to market new plant-based protein snacks and beverages.

These initiatives all involve plant-based brands extending into new plant-based categories. There have also been examples in the past of animal meat brands extending into plant-based foods through licensing. In 2016, Unilever licensed its Unox brand of meats and meat-based noodle dishes and soups, available in the Netherlands and Belgium, to De Vegetarische Slager/The Vegetarian Butcher for a line of Unox vegetarian meatballs in sauce. Two years later, in 2018, they followed that up with vegetarian rookworst, a Dutch smoked sausage. These products are not plant-based (vegan), like the products mentioned above, because they contain ingredients such as egg whites, but they are meat-free (vegetarian). At the end of 2018, Unilever purchased The Vegetarian Butcher.

Another Dutch company, the snack brand Mora, owned by Van Geloven, also partnered with The Vegetarian Butcher in 2018 (before the Unilever acquisition) to launch a vegetarian version of a croquette, as well as croquette balls and breaded chicken nuggets. Mora is the most popular brand of croquette, a popular Dutch snack.

Retail sales of all plant-based foods in the U.S. increased 6.1% in 2021, according to an analysis of SPINS data by the Plant Based Foods Association and The Good Food Institute, to $7.4 billion. This growth followed a 27% increase in 2020. Separately, in an August 2021 report, Bloomberg Intelligence valued the global market for plant-based foods at $29.4 billion in 2020 and predicted sales of $162 billion worldwide by 2030. At the end of the period, plant-based foods will account for 7.7% of the global animal and dairy protein market, Bloomberg says.

In the past six months, however, many of the major players in the U.S. plant-based meat category have reported declines in sales and/or profits. It is too soon to say whether this is a signal of hard times ahead, or just a blip in the road. The key players in the market remain bullish on the prospects for prepared vegan and vegetarian foods, despite this recent concerning news. One indicator of this optimism is the emergence of long-term licensing deals, joint ventures, and other forms of partnership, which bring plant-based brands into additional categories, propel innovation in the space, and represent an investment in the future.

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