Plant-Based Revolution

A new trend has emerged across the food sector in recent years.  As people become increasingly concerned about sustainability, unhealthy diets and ethical eating, the plant-based food industry is starting to boom.  In May, Sainsbury's reported a 65 per cent year-on-year increase in plant-based food sales as more people adopt vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian lifestyles – and the industry is responding to this growing demand.  From plant-based meat alternatives to wider ranges of fruit and vegetables, more and more choice is hitting the shelves – with one report estimating that the market will reach $13 trillion by 2025.

While major players are starting to invest in the sector, the driving force behind this growth has been in no small part due to the innovation of SMEs.  A range of products developed by smaller food manufacturers have proved to be a hit – and as their orders have increased many of these companies have reached the stage at which they need to expand their operations.

plant-based meat alternatives

Logically, it seems that plant-based food will retain its popularity, hence the growing investment from businesses of all sizes.  Having said that, for the SMEs looking to take their next step, making this assumption is much more of a financial risk.  While the market is surging now there is no guarantee this will translate into long-term growth, and incurring large costs to invest in something which may fizzle out in the coming years is something many are understandably hesitant about doing. 

For small and medium sized enterprises this leaves a big question to answer: how can we compete and grow in a rapidly expanding market without knowing its longevity?


Everyone in the supply chain has to be aware of this juxtaposition and be flexible to help them take this step.  At Air Products, our main involvement involves supplying equipment for the chilling and freezing of food. Items such as this are vital to keep down the running costs of any food manufacture business – without a mechanism to chill or freeze products quickly and effectively, waste increases and transportation over long distances becomes problematic.  But for smaller firms, the significant capital cost of purchasing one can be difficult to justify.  With this in mind, we keep the door open for smaller businesses by offering shorter term rent of the equipment rather than a flat purchase.  For a start-up, this flexibility can be the difference between having the funds to take a risk or having to take a step back.

We should also remember our wider responsibility to use our expertise to advise on the right freezing solution.  New startups will be operating with little expertise of our work, and it is up to us to find the optimal solution based on volume, gases used and plans for growth.  Continuing to act as expert consultants rather than just suppliers can give customers an added peace of mind as they take a step into the unknown.

The food industry is changing, and we must learn to accommodate these changes.  We're entering an era of experimentation and innovation to answer growing consumer consciousness.  For manufacturers this means uncertainty, and they will naturally be keen to reduce costs until the long-term picture becomes clearer.  Our focus should be keeping our offering as diverse as possible to meet their changing needs and help them find their place at tomorrow's dinner table.

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