Trend Report 2020: It's A Plant-Based World

by Bill McCool on 12/18/2019 | 5 Minute Read

2020 is finally here, and it's that time of year where we get to play Nostradamus and tell you where the future of branding and package design is heading. 

This is the sixth installment in our 9-part Trend Report for 2020; to view the other sections, click on the following hyperlinks to read about Brand Merch', The Rise of Non-Alcoholic BoozeWhite Claw Summer, Monochromatic Packaging, Patterns, Non-Binary Branding, Flexible Logos, and Material Innovation.


Y’all remember that vegan pal you had that only ate Cool Ranch Doritos and insisted upon carving up a Tofurkey at your Thanksgiving?

Me neither.

Anywho, have you had the Impossible Burger yet???

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I have had some variation of this conversation with myself for the past two years because I’m a healthy, functional adult who talks to himself (right? RIGHT?), and you cannot have been not curious about eating these close-enough iterations of beef.

And, at first, yeah, this felt like a fad. But the market would clearly tell you otherwise, and it was a genuine shock it took McDonald’s so long to finally admit that they should pony up and throw the masses a vegan-ish bone when White Castle, Del Taco, and Burger King had beaten them to the punch—and I say “vegan-ish because they’re cooking a lot of this near or close to the same grill as the real stuff, and also, that Whopper has mayonnaise on it.

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Meat production is unsustainable, and with a younger generation keenly aware of climate change, a rising global population, and doomsday facts-masquerading-as-predictions, brands are trying their darndest to offer these faux meats—hell, it even inspired Nestle to create the sad knockoff Awesome Burger, which, you know, way to give it the old college try guys.

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In the US, from March 2016 to March 2019, the sale of plant-based meat climbed 42%, and these protein alternatives could have a future value of $85 billion by 2030. Every brand now is shouting their plant-based bona-fides, because that kind of virtue-signaling is something consumers want to see on a package as much as gluten and whatever free. That little money-maker term, “plant-based,” is now used to describe food a lot more often, having grown 268% from 2012 through 2018. This is more than just a dietary fad, as 53% of millennials feel that a healthy lifestyle is critical to them. 

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It’s not so much about adopting a vegan lifestyle; it’s about finding a halfway decent meat replacement, something that 52% of consumers are seeking out. But it’s not just fake meat riling up consumers—milk alternatives are big business too:

“Plant-based milk has been a niche alternative to dairy for the lactose-intolerant and crunchy vegetarian types for decades, but has grown to become a substantial threat to cow's milk, which saw a decline of $1.1 billion in 2018, while plant-based milk has cultivated $1.6 billion, a 9% increase in sales.”

Across the board, whether it’s milk or burgers, consumers want healthier alternatives, and if they’re friendlier to the planet, all the better.

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Even private labels want in on meat-and-dairy free substitutes as Kroger launched Simple Truth Plant Based this past September, offering everything from deli slices and chocolate chip cookie dough to bolognese sauces and meatless patties. And, apparently, it doesn’t have to be entirely plant-based to warrant the label, as Stouffer’s and DiGiorno want to make inroads with flexitarians by offering a meatless lasagne and a vegan pepperoni pizza with 100% real cheese.

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And while we’ve mentioned some fairly big CPG players, it should also be noted that some of these products eschew the typical branding language and design of vegan fare—gone are the beiges and greens, all of the clinical good-for-you narrative brands try to spin on the shelf—just look at Oatly

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Oat Milk has surged in popularity and is especially popular with the barista-set. While they’ve been around since the 90s, they underwent an entirely new creative direction back in 2012, taking them from niche Swedish alt-milk to a wholesome, homemade product with an obsessed-over screen-printed, hand-drawn feel. While Oatly hasn’t gone out of their way to sticking a plant-based label all over their packaging, there’s a curbside appeal to the product, one whose design highlights a premium product for a new generation of consumers who want those healthy products.

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Look, meat isn’t going anywhere, and neither is milk. So long as Arby’s has “the meats,” or chicken brands continue to gin up shortages around spicy sandwiches, the consumption of animal products will be business as usual—hell, they could even get as passive-aggressive as Arby’s did with their campaign to double down on animal flesh when they introduced the “meat carrot.” 

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What remains clear is that younger generations are interested in wellness and healthy living, and they have newfound regard for plant-based products. 

Because of climate change and the increase in the global human population, we’d all be a little better off if we could curtail our overall meat consumption, and if we have to eat a few Beyond Burgers in the process, well, what’s the harm in that?

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