Two years ago I wrote similar article to this one for Forbes, in which I noted how veganism is going mainstream.
Now, as we enter not just another new year but a new decade, I’m delighted to report that the vegan and plant-based business space is continuing to grow even bigger and bolder.
Here are some of the key highlights and developments of 2019 as well as what we can expect from 2020 and beyond:
Plant based meat
The plant-based meat sector went off in 2019. The biggest star has to be Beyond Meat, which became the first vegan company to go public. It started trading on the Nasdaq exchange under the ticker symbol ‘BYND’ in May and was met with a flurry of international media and buzz. Two months later it was reported that Beyond Meat had spiked as much as 734% from its original IPO price.
Despite the company’s shares falling in November after early investors sold their shares, it continues to expand its reach in this space, with CEO Ethan Brown telling Bloomberg to expect “exciting things” from Beyond Meat as it goes after the plant-based poultry market in 2020 and beyond.
The company also announced the opening of a plant-based production facility in Europe, to expand its distribution outside the US.
Hot on Beyond Meat’s heels in the US was Impossible Foods. With an initial focus more on food service, the company, which ranks fourth on a list of the fastest growing brands in the US according to a report by Morning Consult, says its burgers are sold in more than 17,000 restaurants in the US, Hong Kong, Singapore and Macau.
The California-based startup’s most high-profile partnership in 2019 was with Burger King. The fast food giant rolled out the Impossible Whopper across 7,200 of its outlets. According to Impossible Foods’ CEO Pat Brown, sales were three times more than what Burger King had anticipated.
The company also launched its first retail products in a number of grocery stores in the US.
Going into 2020, Reuters reported that Impossible is seeking to raise between $300 million and $400 million, which may set the stage for an IPO this coming year.
And it’s not just American companies making waves in this sector.
In Australia, plant-based protein company v2Food was launched by former senior Pepsico director Nick Hazell and announced the purchase of a 55,470 square-metre site in Wodonga on the border of New South Wales and Victoria.
The startup – which involved a collaboration between government department CSIRO and Hungry Jack’s (the Australian franchisee of Burger King) – recently secured $35 million in funding from some of the world’s leading investors, representing what it claims is the largest ever Series A funding round for a plant-based meat company, even beating out the US giants Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.
More than $20 million will be invested in refitting the Wodonga site to be a world-class food-grade facility including the installation of new equipment using the expertise of local contractors. The factory is expected to begin operations in mid-2020 with plans to employ 40-50 local workers. Once up and running, it will enable v2food to scale-up at speed to produce plant-based meat for supermarkets and restaurants across the country.
Meanwhile in Asia, entrepreneur David Yeung’s Omnipork has been taking the region by storm. Its plant-based pork product made its debut into mainland China in 2019 via online retailer Tmall. According to Yeung it’s served in more than 180 restaurants in Shanghai and Beijing, including the recent introduction of the Omnipork Taco in Taco Bell, Shanghai.
Over in the UK, against the backdrop of Brexit, renowned entrepreneur Heather Mills, owner of vegan food company VBites, created a plant-based manufacturing facility in the north of England. Dubbed ‘Plant Based Valley’ (the vegan equivalent of Silicon Valley), the 55-acre site offers manufacturing, storage and business space to plant-based businesses.
Even the multinational corporations are getting on board with the plant-based meat trend
The explosion of innovative plant-based meat products that mimic their animal-based counterparts has caught the attention of multinational corporations which have wasted no time in taking advantage of this trend.
Nestlé brought out its own plant-based burger in September, via the Sweet Earth brand that it acquired two years previously.
KFC trialed vegan chicken at limited test locations in the US and Canada which saw the products sell out within five to six hours.
Canadian meat corporation Maple Leaf announced plans to build a $310 million plant-based protein food processing facility in Indiana in the US, which it claims will be the largest facility of its kind in North America.
And Hungry Jack’s in Australia launched its Rebel Whopper using plant-based protein from v2Food.
Even Unilever (notorious for testing products and ingredients on animals) has reported to have invested £71 million into a research centre in the UK whose areas of research will include plant-based ingredients and meat alternatives.
For my take on the pros and cons of multinationals jumping on the plant-based bandwagon, check out this talk I gave in November:
Not everyone is happy about these developments though. A number of lawsuits were filed in the US by legislators and meat industry groups aiming to stop the use of meat and dairy-based terms including ‘sausage’, ‘cheese’ and ‘butter’ on products that are not made from animals.
The Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) successfully challenged such a move in Mississippi, while a temporary block on a similar Arkansas law was achieved recently after vegan meat brand Tofurky sued the state with the help of the Good Food Institute, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
In December, PBFA released its own set of voluntary standards for the labeling of meat products in the US.
Here’s a video of a panel discussion held in June featuring PBFA’s executive director Michele Simon outlining some of the legal issues and what vegan brands can do to protect themselves.
In terms of the size of the plant-based meat market, research firm Markets and Markets estimated it is projected to grow at a CAGR of 15.0% from 2019, to reach a value of USD 27.9 billion by 2025.
Vegan dairy and eggs
Vegan dairy alternatives are also continuing on their upward trajectory.
A major player in this field is Miyoko’s. Headed up by longtime vegan entrepreneur Miyoko Schinner, the company recently received investment from celebrities Ellen DeGeneres and Portia DeRossi, including a product appearance on the Ellen TV show.
Miyoko’s is set to debut its range of aged fermented cheeses in 2020, while Schinner is seeking a dairy farm in California to help transition it from animal agriculture to plants to be used as the company’s research and development center.
In the UK and Australia, supermarket giants are continuing to add and bring out plant-based dairy products. Asda in the UK announced the launch of two vegan blue cheeses just in time for Christmas, while Woolworths Australia is making a cashew-based cheese which competes on price with dairy cheese.
Again multinationals are keeping abreast of developments in this market, of which the global non-dairy milk market alone is projected to reach revenues of more than $38 billion by 2024, according to Market Watch.
Dairy giant Danone North America plans to capitalize on the success of its plant-based investments into 2020, and UK cheese giant Norseland, a subsidiary of Norwegian dairy company Tine SA, said vegan cheesemakers have finally got the taste right. As a vegan of 23 years, I can confirm this!
On the egg front, JUST continues its journey as a key player. It recently acquired a 30,000 square foot manufacturing plant in Minnesota in the US and launched its egg sandwiches in 63 Whole Food Market stores in the Southern Pacific region.
Fashion and beauty
Innovations in the fashion and beauty space continued throughout 2019.
Major sports brand Reebok got in on the action and debuted vegan sneakers made from algae.
Cactus emerged as another plant-based material to substitute for leather, courtesy of Mexican brand Desserto.
In another progressive development, activewear brand KD New York has created a vegan alternative to cashmere. The company – which was created by two dancers from the Oakland Ballet in 1980 – makes a range of athleisure products, from bodysuits to leg warmers which have been worn by celebrities including Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
The company – whose entire range is “plant-based” according to co-founder David Lee – launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $51,000 to launch the Vegetable Cashmere line and surpassed that with 243 backers who pledged just over $54,000 in pre-orders which are expected to be delivered in February 2020.
KD New York founders say the product is “exactly” like animal-based cashmere in terms of look and feel, but without the cruelty and is also more sustainable, being 100% plant-based, natural and biodegradable.
A father and daughter duo in France smashed their Kickstarter campaign for their multifunctional vegan Bobobark bag that can be worn as a backpack, handbag or briefcase. Elie Seroussi, a 30-year veteran of the Paris fashion industry and founder of fashion house Cecile & Jeanne Paris, and his daughter Natacha, sought $15,000 USD and raised over $1 million.
Celebrity entrepreneurs who have been creative in this space include Stella McCartney, who teamed up with sports brand Adidas to create a vegan version of its Stan Smith shoe; and Kat Von D who unveiled her much-anticipated vegan gothic-style shoe line, in association with Mink Shoes.
Meanwhile Kinder Beauty Box, a vegan subscription box curated by Irish actor and entrepreneur Evanna Lynch and American actor and singer Daniella Monet, continues to go from strength to strength with the launch of an online community featuring educational content on eco, clean and vegan beauty.
Again the multinationals are keeping up with demand for vegan fashion: UK high street fashion retailer New Look launched a 500-strong shoe range, certified with The Vegan Society’s trademark. And Macy’s on Herald Street in New York stocked what’s believed to be its first vegan handbag collection just before Christmas, via a partnership with local vegan brand GUNAS.
The global vegan cosmetics market size is projected to reach USD 20.8 billion by 2025, according to a report by Grand View Research, which notes that “spiraling demand for vegan cosmetics among millennials is one of the primary growth stimulants of the market”.
Biohacker Ryan Bethencourt took on the $30 billion pet food industry in the US with the launch of Wild Earth, a vegan pet food company that makes cultured protein products using human-grade koji, a distant relative of the mushroom. Bethencourt appeared on Shark Tank in the US in late 2019 and received investment from renowned businessman Mark Cuban (one of several plant-based investments Cuban has made).
Mars, the owner of popular pet food products including Pedigree Chum and Whiskas, is reportedly developing its own range of plant-based protein products for companion animals.
More vegan travel options keep popping up. Youth travel specialist Contiki, for example, has launched a Vegan Food Europe Explorer group tour, and Lonely Planet recently released a plant-based travel guide called The Vegan Travel Handbook.
Finance and investors
The big story in the finance sector in 2019 was the launch of the world’s first vegan-friendly and climate-conscious exchange traded fund (ETF) onto the New York Stock Exchange in September.
‘VEGN’ is the brainchild of Claire Smith, founder of Beyond Investing, and her team (full disclosure: I did some PR work for this company). The ETF tracks the US Vegan Climate Index (ticker VEGAN) launched by Beyond Investing in June, 2018, and excludes stocks that are incompatible with a vegan and climate-conscious approach to investing. As of 23 December, 2019 assets in the fund were $11.5 million USD.
Here’s an interview I did with Smith earlier this year:
According to Smith, the company is set to launch versions of the Index in other regions in 2020, as well as a global vegan thematic strategy containing purely plant-based and cruelty-free companies.
In addition, Smith will be launching the Beyond Animal integrated digital platform with the aim of accelerating the growth of the vegan economy. The tech platform recently gained Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) approval to provide crowdfunding services to the vegan business community.
Smith is among a growing number of vegan investors providing capital and support to businesses that have the potential for large-scale impact in removing animals from production lines.
Joining her is Alicia Robb of Next Wave Impact, who launched Vegan Investors, a group of angel investors who run online, virtual pitch events to support vegan-led companies. What’s even more exciting is that Robb is keen to support female entrepreneurs as well as business owners from other diverse backgrounds including people of color and those from sex and gender diverse communities.
Here’s an interview I did with Robb recently:
A range of service providers from accountants and graphic designers to copywriters and PR consultants continue to shift their business model to helping vegan businesses.
Earlier this year saw the launch of an international vegan recruitment agency headquartered in the UK. Citizen Kind was founded by Emma Osborne, an experienced recruiter, who has already filled several senior-level positions at vegan and plant-based companies across the globe.
The first plant-based trade expo in the US was held in June in New York. The Plant Based World Conference & Expo (the official conference of the PBFA) was deemed such a success that the organizers are already putting together the second one, also in NYC in 2020, as well as launching a European version in London in October.
Veganuary – the initiative launched by Matthew Glover and Jane Land in the UK that encourages people to try vegan for the month of January – is going global for 2020 after the appointment of new CEO Ria Rehberg. Not only was Veganuary already 127% up in terms of sign-ups in mid-December 2019 (100,000) on the same point last year, it’s also raised funds to run a TV advert for the first time.
Finally, on the subject of television: The first plant-based cooking show will air on mainstream TV in the UK. ‘Living on the Veg’ features British personalities Ian Theasby and Henry Firth – aka Bosh! It will screen on Sunday mornings in 2020 on the ITV network.
Over in the US vegan entrepreneur Ron Gandiza and his team have launched the Plant Based Network, a lifestyle and entertainment media distribution company (full disclosure: I’m on the advisory committee). A number of TV shows showcasing plant-based living are streaming online on the company’s website as well as on Roku, and as of the end of December 2019, will be available on Amazon Fire and Apple TV.
All the above are just the tip of the iceberg. So, as you can see, there’s a lot to be excited about. Veganism is an ethical philosophy and lifestyle that benefits people, animals and planet, so it’s imperative that vegan products and services are as accessible as possible, both physically and financially.
Consumers are continuing to demand these kinds of products and services, whether for health, ethical or environmental reasons. The vegan and plant-based business sector is well placed to transform our society for the better – and make a profit in the process.
Are you in?