How food manufacturers can meet the meat alternative market

Laura Gilbank, Business Development Manager at Columbus UK, discusses how food manufacturers can cultivate a successful plant-based strategy

Demand for meat alternatives has never been higher, with today’s consumers increasingly keen to reduce their carbon footprints and reap the health benefits associated with decreased meat consumption. Approximately 7.2m adults in the UK now follow a plant-based diet, and the market for meat alternatives looks set to grow exponentially to US$17.4bn by 2027. Expansion into the plant-based market is a lucrative opportunity for many manufacturers but it brings with it a unique set of challenges solvable only by introducing a new level of agility and flexibility to operations. For Laura Gilbank, Business Development Manager at Columbus UK, new technologies including food-specific ERP solutions are the answer.

Meat alternatives contain more extensive ingredient lists to replicate the taste and texture of meat products. For example, Meatless Farm’s Chicken Breast relies on four proteins and fibres to replicate Ocado’s own brand Chicken Breast. This creates issues for manufacturers if protein supply chains are disrupted, or when new legislation is introduced – such as Natasha’s Law, which better protects those with allergens from cross-contamination. 

To counter these potential problem points, end-to-end ingredients management and tracking capabilities are essential. A food-specific ERP solution can provide exactly that – to futureproof manufacturing operations against the rise in plant-based product demand. 

Laura Gilbank, Business Development Manager at Columbus UK

Price competitively through a successful plant-based strategy 

There is a common misconception that plant-based products are exclusive. Both traditional food manufacturers such as Birds Eye, and unprocessed manufacturers such as Meati, are leaning into the market trend to support the full meat to non-meat eating spectrum. Among personal reasons for switching to plant-based alternatives are animal welfare and environmental concerns – but 31% of consumers consider a major positive impact on the climate as the single greatest reason for completing the switch. To tap into this eco-consciousness, food companies of all sizes need more sustainably sourced products – and this is where a food-specific ERP solution comes in. 

65% of vegan-alternative ready meals are more expensive than their meat counterparts, and with the current cost-of-living increase, affordability looks set to become critical for plant-based manufacturers. The ability to keep base pricing consistent is key to secure a foothold in the market, and a food-based ERP solution can automate shifts, production, and sanitation scheduling to help reduce unnecessary costs, encourage proactive planning, and free up staff for other tasks. Additional use of automated tools such as QR code scanners can help businesses collect ingredient information quickly and offset potentially costly lost sales. 

Become a bastion of excellent CX to establish yourself as a key market differentiator 


Recent demand increases for fortified snacks such as those produced by Silk and So Delicious are indicative of a wider demographic change in the plant-based market. Vegan products are no longer just for vegans, and food businesses need to pivot their communication strategies accordingly. Today’s customers want their buying experiences to be like their personal ones, with an ability to research information online, compare offers, and request pricing at their own leisure. As digital marketplaces are readily available at the touch of a button, companies must now look to place their brand front and centre. 

This has forced industry leaders to revisit their customer experience strategies to gain a competitive market edge. For instance, 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience, so there’s a clear incentive for plant-based leaders to opt for a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. Integration with a food-specific ERP system allows businesses to gain real-time accessibility and data sharing capabilities such as access to order history, buyer insights, and preferential analytics. Niche experience personalisation is critical for plant-based market gains, and CRM makes it easier to personalise plant-based product messaging to meet specific customer needs, turning more prospects into leads. 

End-to-end transparency in the ‘food-to-go’ market is critical for long-term success and compliance


Plant-based alternatives have been introduced by industry giants in the fast-food market to meet new demand. Yet, this has led to an increase in the number of recalls and allergen-related hospitalisations across the food industry, particularly within the food-to-go market. End-to-end ingredient traceability must remain a priority for businesses to ensure continual food safety – and technology can play a significant role. 

More than 60% of consumers consider ingredient statements and nutritional panels when buying plant-based products. As plant-based alternatives have longer ingredient lists, there’s value in the industry developing cleaner, shorter labels on products with fewer, more familiar sounding ingredients. 

An ERP food-specific solution allows businesses to collect and manage data from sources throughout the supply chain to sustain regulatory compliance. For instance, allergen management capabilities reduce the risk of cross-contamination and provide visibility into allergens across multiple sources by assessing the whole ingredient journey. Greater transparency over the entire supply chain ensures that businesses can provide up-to-date and accurate allergy labels to ensure consumers feel confident in their food choices. 

Meat-free alternatives are the future of food manufacturing


We are now in the decade of the plant, but with ingredient shortages and cost of living increases, consumers are looking to make smarter choices. To meet this demand, food businesses must look to increase product sustainability and affordability to stand out from the competition. The technology is there with food-specific solutions that can help plant-based manufacturers boost supply chain transparency, reduce prices, and increase product sustainability for many years to come.

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