Plants are the lifeblood of the planet, so calling them a potential area for innovation may seem odd, but with the changes in society today plants hold huge potential for innovative thinkers.
One of the key elements of this is not in the basic uses for plants the people often think about, but instead the use of plant proteins, which could hold significant potential for solving the issue of feeding the planet. In 1966 the average person consumed 24.2kg of meat in one year. In 2030, that number will sit at 45.3kg, an increase of 87% in 64 years. This increase has had significant impacts on the world, with meat farming causing environmental damage whilst being an inefficient way of providing food.
According to a report from Research and Markets, there will be a CAGR of 8.29% between 2017-2021 in the use of these proteins, which will require new ways of sourcing plant proteins and will open up opportunities for suppliers and manufacturers alike. Companies like Impossible Foods are ramping up production, with their factory in Oakland expecting to produce 12 million pounds of plant-based burgers every year. They have also had around $257 million invested in the company, from influential people like Bill Gates and Dustin Moskovitz, neither of whom made billions by making frivolous investments.
The report from Research and Markets claims that 'Plant proteins, such as pea protein have 85% of protein content, which is higher than other vegetable proteins. With protein levels similar to that of animal sources, it adequately meets the nutritional needs of the vegetarian and vegan populations.' However, with the increasing awareness of the environmental issues surrounding meat production, this is also likely to appeal to those environmentally minded people looking to decrease their weekly meat intake.
Companies who are already working within the market are even getting on board with their disruptors. For instance, Nestle bought Sweet Earth Foods. Tyson Foods, the largest meat producer in the U.S, invested in Beyond Meat. And Walmart has reportedly begun asking their suppliers to provide them with more meat-free products.
However, although the meat-free market is one that is going to be big in the next 12 months, the reality is that because these actively require a choice from consumers, this impact isn't going to be as big as it could be.
Last year Coca Cola alone produced 110 billion plastic bottles, many of which were simply discarded and have since added to the huge number of discarded plastic in the world. According to some estimates, if we continue to dump plastic bottles in the sea at the same rate we are today, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050. This is a major PR disaster for companies making these bottles; the image of millions of plastic Coca-Cola bottles killing fish and polluting water is not a good one. It is part of the reason why the company is trying to take proactive steps to use biodegradable plant based plastics, rather than oil based plastics.
In the next five years, use of bioplastics is predicted to increase by 50% according to the European Bioplastics Association in Berlin, and with the increase in negative reporting around those who's products pollute the earth, this seems like a good opportunity. Companies including BASF, Stora Enso, and Lego are already investing in this technology, but one of the key issues that they are having is simply finding suppliers and making sure that consumers are wanting the products. Ben Jordan, head of environmental policy at Coca-Cola, told Bloomberg that 'It won’t ever work if there’s just one big consumer company like a Coca-Cola trying to drive suppliers...You need more demand out there in industry.'
With these billion dollar companies all actively looking into plant based plastics, the opportunity for innovation as more money is pumped into research and development, is huge. From those looking at new techniques, through to other companies utilizing the technologies that are created in the process, there is every chance that 2018 could represent a watershed year for those using plant based plastics.
The element of both plant-based meats and plant-based plastic is that there is a real appetite to replace products that are doing significant damage to the world, especially amongst younger generations. Where baby-boomers and older generations would generally focus on price or quality rather than any other purchase considerations, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Y (who are now in the majority) look as much at environmental impact as any other element. Jens Hainmueller, Michael J. Hiscox and Sandra Sequeira conducted an experiment and it was found that in a popular generic coffee brand, when a fair trade label was added, sales increased by 10%, showing that given the choice people today would rather choose a product that aligns with their moral compass. If a company can therefore morally differentiate themselves from the competition, they are likely to see a spike in sales.
Today's consumers are considerably more savvy than in previous generations and half-baked or purely PR driven initiatives are easily spotted and can do major damage to a brand. Instead, taking genuine steps to improve a product through changes like adopting plant based plastics or offering an environmentally friendly meat alternatives can be a huge catalyst for the companies utilizing the technologies and a boon for the industry providing them. 2018, therefore, could well be the year that plants became one of the world's most innovative products.