COVID-19, the zoonotic disease that devastatingly swept the entire planet, has drastically affected the livelihood and lifestyle of much of the global population. Although COVID-19 is neither directly associated with livestock nor a food-borne illness, it has acted as a confounding variable in modifying many people's dietary patterns and food hygiene practices. The pandemic has been a significant prompt for an increase in vegan diets for many reasons.
Food does not prevent COVID-19 infection, but a well-planned, healthy, and balanced diet is necessary for reducing health risks. Nutritional support helps cope with the disease's toll on the body and vegan foods may contain elements that support many health benefits. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has recommended the inclusion of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and unsaturated fatty acids-rich foods to help support micronutrient requirements, boost the immune system, and reduce inflammation. Consumer research and the tracking of new products by Innova Market Insights has shown a huge rise in interest in immunity-boosting food and beverages, so much so that Innova made "In Tune with Immune" one of its Top Ten Trends of 2021. The desire for natural, easy-to-trace, trusted products - especially ones that can justifiably claim additional health benefits – are driving the rise in plant-based innovation.
Vegan foods – including plant-based products and those excluding eggs, meats, seafood, and dairy – have risen in popularity in recent years, and that trend has accelerated during the pandemic. Studies have observed reductions in the sale of seafood and meat alongside a striking rise in vegan food sales. Of the many reasons influencing this behavioral change, the risk perception rightly or wrongly associated with COVID seems to be a potent cause. Furthermore, there has been a significant increase in the exploration for scientific publications containing the search terms "vegan", "vegetarian" and "plant-based" on PubMed worldwide, particularly since 2020. Public inclination towards vegan foods correlates with an increasing awareness of the evidence-based implications of these diets on human health.
Vegan market rise
The perceived health benefits of vegan foods, their cost, and concerns pertaining to pathogen transmission from animals to humans in live animal markets have propelled the market growth. The marketing strategies adopted by meat-alternative companies may also play a significant role. Based on information from the Innova Market Insights database, the launches of food products that are vegan and plant-based have rapidly increased globally over the past five years (Figure 2). The phenomenal surge in growth indicates consumer preference for vegan alternatives growing. India, a culturally vegetarian nation, has expectedly shown a high growth rate (+59% CAGR, 2016-2020) of vegan and plant-based product launches.
Widening the vegan footprint
The food industry is racing to satisfy consumer demands, leading to product innovation and development growth globally. Innova Market Insights' database of new product launches in India shows how vegan and plant-based development has expanded to encompass new food categories in recent years. While snacks are still the biggest innovation area, sports nutrition and baby & toddler products have joined the growing list of categories where vegan and plant-based claims are prominent in New Product Development (NPD).
Even though there has been a growing and consistent inclination towards vegan foods in recent years, that trend seems to have ignited during the pandemic, with more products coming to market and an increase in venues offering vegan choices. WHO recommendations on the careful handling of live animal markets and products to prevent future zoonotic-origin pandemics further encourage the rise in vegan diets worldwide, as consumers attempt to understand food safety and sourcing in the shadow of COVID. It is a trend that shows little sign of abating, with concerns over the environment, sustainability, ethical treatment of animals, diet variety, and holistic health benefits, fuelling the rise of plant-based, vegetarian, and vegan food and beverages.
Kerenhappuch Susan S, research analyst-Nutrition at Innova Market Insights
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