Plant-based market: coping with demand

04 May 2020


Functional foods claim to have additional health benefits that extend beyond basic nutrition,  including improved physiological and cognitive health, as well as the reduction of disease. The plant-based food market for functional foods is currently booming as consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of what they put into their bodies.

According to MarketWatch, the global functional foods market was valued at $153.6 billion in 2018 and will reach $260.4 billion by the end of 2025, growing at a CAGR of 6.8% during 2019-2025. A growing concern for one’s health and wellness, alongside advances in science and technology, are just a couple of the factors sustaining consumer interest in functional foods.

With the global plant-based market predicted to attain a market value of $38.4 billion by 2025, many companies are recognising opportunities for these two booming sectors to join forces. Here, FoodBev assesses some key areas of functionality for consumers and takes a look at how the plant-based market has innovated new products to fit these functionalities.

General health and wellbeing

From heart health to immune health and prevention of cancer and other diseases, many products with functional health benefits are appearing on the market.

Antioxidant-rich products are a key example of functional foods that promote overall health and wellbeing. Mayo Clinic describes antioxidants as substances that may protect your cells against free radicals, which may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases. There is a wide range of plant-based food sources that are high in antioxidants, such as pecans, strawberries, artichokes and kale. Tohi Ventures vegan-friendly functional antioxidant beverage contains aronia berries, which were traditionally used as a cold remedy by Native Americans.

Immune system function is another hot topic and consumers are seeking ways to improve their immunity through the foods and beverages they consume. There are many foods that are said to be ‘immune boosters’, particularly those containing vitamin C, such as citrus fruits and red bell peppers, and those with anti-inflammatory properties, such as ginger.

US plant-based functional beverage producer, Rebbl, released a line of super herb elixirs packed with four varieties of medicinal mushrooms that are rich in antioxidants and work together to provide strong immunity-boosting abilities and defence. As Covid-19 continues to impact us globally, consumers are becoming increasingly concerned for their immune systems and general health. It will, therefore, be interesting to see how plant-based brands respond to this.

Brain health

In recent years there has been a significant increase in research revealing a link between diet and cognitive benefits. For example, foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins and antioxidants are known to support brain health and incorporating them into a healthy diet could ultimately contribute to better mental function.

Many food and beverage brands have responded to consumer demand for products that aid brain function. Canadian functional beverage company Koios’ formula claims to enhance short-term brain functions and improve e long-term memory. Ingredients include the superfood lion’s mane mushroom, and L-Theanine – an amino acid that has a calming effect on the brain.

Fatty fish is one of the main functional food groups linked to improved brain health. As such, plant-based food and beverage companies have explored using alternative ingredients that can provide vegans and flexitarians with the benefits of omega-3. Chia seeds, for instance, are a good source of ALA omega-3 fatty acids. Every serving of Mamma Chia’s dairy-free organic Chiamilk is asserted to be a “nutritional powerhouse” with omega-3.

Another important cognitive ‘superfood’ that has surged in recent years is CBD. According to Grand View Research, the global cannabidiol market was valued at $4.6 billion in 2018 and is anticipated to witness a lucrative CAGR of 22.2% over the forecast period. CBD has been known to benefit the human brain in various ways, including helping with seizures, sleep, anxiety and depression.

With the rise of CBD products and plant-based foods coinciding with one another, the plant-based market has thus seen countless new functional CBD products. For example, Navistas’s vegan-friendly functional CBD shots and Good Hemp’s plant-based CBD milk, to name a few.

 Gut health

60-80% of our immune systems are in our gut, according to Duggar Wellness, so if the gut is out of balance this can often lead to further health issues. Hence, many consumers are turning to foods and drinks to aid with their digestion. It is commonly known that certain foods like peppermint, fennel and ginger have digestion-enhancing properties. However, one of the most commonly known aids to gut health are probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are live microorganisms that are similar to beneficial microorganisms found in the human gut, while prebiotics promote the growth of these beneficial microorganisms.

One of the most common and popular sources of probiotics is yoghurt/kefir products, but these are not suitable for a plant-based diet. As a result, a number of companies have developed plant-based products so that more consumers can reap the same benefits. Rebbl’s debut of their plant-based sparkling tonic line with prebiotic fibre to support digestive health, alongside Tyson Food’s refrigerated protein snack bites containing probiotics, prebiotics and fibre, are just some of the products launched to address this concern.

There have also been a number of responses from the functional plant-based market that go beyond probiotic and prebiotic products. For example, Wow’s launch of their ‘Dark Detox’ drink containing activated charcoal to help cleanse and remove toxins from the digestive tract.  The global digestive health products market is forecasted to grow to $83.5 billion by 2022, according to Transparency Market Research, and there is no doubt that the plant-based market will continue to have a significant role in this area.


Beverages with functionality relating to energy levels have been popular for a long time, from sports drinks to coffee-based products. There has recently been a rise in products with energy benefits made from natural energy boosting ingredients, catered towards the health-conscious consumer.

For instance, DRGN launched a turmeric-infused soft drink containing a range of vitamins, electrolytes and an amino acid to reduce fatigue and aid hydration. Such products are often marketed as ‘suitable for vegans’ in order to ensure growing demands for natural ingredients are met.

Caffeinated beverages have long been considered to have functional benefits and coffee-based products are one of the main forms. Recently, cold brew coffee has become a major trend, with its market size estimated to grow by $1.12 billion from 2020-2024, according to Technavio.

With such market potential, it comes as no surprise that many companies have released plant-based cold brew products using dairy-free milk alternatives. One key market player is Danone’s Stok Cold Brew company, which is expanding its portfolio with dairy-free cold brews using both almond and oat milk. However, some plant-based companies have been steering towards lesser known ingredients to provide consumers with an energy boost. Laird Superfood, for example, has released a ‘superfood creamer’ with functional ‘energising’ mushrooms.


What if food and beverage products could make you look good as well as feel good? With the health-conscious consumer on the rise, the idea of food for self-care presents plant-based businesses with opportunities beyond physical and mental health.

One major trend has seen a rise in ‘beauty drinks’; a market expected to be worth $1.4 billion by 2022, according to Technavio. Much of that growth – 11% CAGR, Technavio says – emerges from a shift in consumer aspirations and will be driven forward by convenience-led formats.

Vital Protein’s collagen grab-and-go beverages are a key example, with their vice-president Tara Hamala saying that RTD formats will help the collagen market to penetrate a larger audience. Collagen is said to have various benefits from improving skin to reducing wrinkles and dryness.

According to market research company NPD, 62% of women aged 35-54 and 65% of women over 55 consider anti-ageing benefits to be of top importance when purchasing beauty products – which could be extended to beauty beverages. Curcumin, extracted from turmeric, fits in with the botanical trend seen in many current beverage products on the market.

There is no doubt the functional market for beauty products presents an opportunity for plant-based companies and as many of the sources are completely natural, it won’t be hard for the plant-based market to provide further innovations.

Published by on April 21, 2020
Image by Shutterstock


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