group of friends eating burger

5 Plant-Based Protein Trends for 2021

With the pandemic driving new interest in healthy eating and more consumers exploring (and enjoying) plant-based protein products during the lockdown, the future looks brighter than ever for manufacturers in the plant-based space. Take a look at some of the most important plant-based protein trends for 2021 and how these address consumers’ needs.

Record Growth in Plant-Based Foods

Last year set a new record for the U.S. retail plant-based food market which grew 27%, reaching $7 billion, according to the Plant Based Foods Association.1 While retail food purchases increased across the board due to COVID lockdowns, growth in plant-based foods was nearly double that of the total market (which grew 15%), indicating a strong consumer interest in plant-based.

Protein is at the core of last year’s surging plant-based foods sales, with plant-based meat sales up 45% (twice the rate of conventional meat). For refrigerated plant-based meats, sales grew by 75%—no doubt helped by the trend among retailers of placing plant-based meats in the meat section. Plant-based milks also continue to do well, despite being a well-developed segment, seeing growth of 20% last year.

2021 Top Trends in Plant-Based Protein

As we move into the post-COVID phase, we can look forward to continued expansion and innovation in plant-based proteins as manufacturers focus on addressing consumers’ current needs. Here are the top 2021 plant-based protein trends to watch:

1) Fast Food Plant-Based Meats

With cooking fatigue officially setting in for many consumers, restaurant reopenings are providing welcome relief. Low prices and menus with better-for-you plant-based offerings are making fast-food restaurants a top choice in eating out. Whether they're craving burgers, tacos, or breakfast sandwiches, consumers can find plant-based protein options at Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Dunkin’, Qdoba, Subway, White Castle, and more. In addition, McDonald’s McPlant and Taco Bell’s Cravetarian Taco are scheduled for a U.S. launch this year.

2) Growth in Plant-Based Protein Powders

2021 is also the year for getting back in shape. With eating and exercise routines disrupted in 2020, fitness and weight loss are becoming top priorities for many consumers. Although whey protein powder remains the go-to product in sports nutrition, the growing interest in plant-based eating along with innovative formulas that blend plant-based proteins to create complete protein products will boost growth in this segment. Brands such as Vega and Orgain are using a variety of complementary plant-based proteins, including pea, chia, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, brown rice, alfalfa, and sacha inchi proteins.

woman making shake

3) Plant-Based Seafood Investment and Expansion

Last year’s expansion of Good Catch Foods’ plant-based seafood products into the European market put the spotlight on this emerging plant-based category. Products include plant-based flaked tuna, fish cakes, and crab cakes and are known for their realistic taste, texture, and even nutrition—thanks to algal DHA fortification. The influx of capital funding plus the recent partnership with Bumble Bee Foods for distribution signals exciting things ahead for plant-based seafood.

4) Upcycled Plant-Based Protein Products

Another trend to watch this year is plant-based products that raise the bar on sustainability—via upcycled food waste. Planetarians is working to extract sunflower seed protein from the oil cakes left over after sunflower oil production (currently used as animal feed), while Outcast Foods, a specialist in upcycling unsaleable fruits and vegetables, is offering fruit and veggie-fortified protein powders. Real Food Bar joined the movement this year with its new plant-based protein bars featuring upcycled kale, sweet potato, and cauliflower.

snack bars

5) New Plant-Based Protein Exploration

Consumer demand for new and exciting plant-based protein products is driving sophisticated, science-based exploration of new protein sources. Research underway includes the characterization of proteins from camelina, an oilseed cover crop in the Brassicaceae family, and red seaweeds like nori and ogo. Functional properties, such as gelling and emulsification, will be particularly important for new plant proteins to facilitate use in next-gen plant-based meat, egg, and dairy products. 

A Healthy, Sustainable Food Future

This year promises to be another big year for plant-based proteins as consumers seek healthy, sustainable, and exciting foods and beverages in the post-COVID period. Companies that keep up with consumer trends to offer consumers the right products with the right ingredients will be poised for success.

As one of the leading plant-based protein suppliers globally, Glanbia Nutritionals has a protein ingredient portfolio that meets the needs of today’s consumers. Contact us to learn about plant-based ingredients and other ingredients for beverage, bakery, snacks, and more!


1. Plant Based Foods Association. (2021). 2020 Plant-based Retail Sales Data Press Release. Retrieved from

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