The Next Wave of Plant-Based Alternatives

Beyond Meat’s coming IPO makes clear: something has fundamentally changed in how Americans think about their animal protein consumption.

No longer just a trend for the 0.5% of the population that follows a vegan diet, the desire to shift from an animal to plant based diet has gone truly mainstream. While the number of vegetarians and vegans hasn’t changed much in the last two decades, a recent Johns Hopkins study suggests that 65% of Americans are reducing at least one type of their meat consumption. Even more recent – and staggering – is our >10% decline in milk consumption from 2013 to 2018, from 53 billion pounds to 47 billion. Clearly the rise of non-dairy alternatives goes well beyond oat milk’s surge in popularity with baristas in SF and LA.

We have no doubt that if the first wave of venture-backed food science was to imitate the taste and nutrition of meat and dairy, the next wave will be to surpass it. At a Future Food Tech conference panel I led last week, executives from companies like Pepsi and Motif unanimously agreed that consumers are increasingly demanding improved nutrition benefits from these alternatives. And why not? Plants have a leg up on animal agriculture in this regard, as they are teeming with micronutrients, fiber, and protein, and many of them naturally have low saturated fats and no cholesterol. The key is getting the taste right.

One of our portfolio companies, Perennial, launched last week to do just that.

Founded by Brent Taylor and Sara Bonham, respectively the co-founder of Beyond Meat and an exceptional food scientist from General Mills, Perennial’s mission is to use plant-based nutrition to promote longevity and healthy aging. Their first product tastes incredible and it also raises the bar on nutrition as the first plant-based nutritional beverage for the 50+ consumer. Amid a quickly growing landscape of non-dairy beverages, we love that Brent and Sara are going straight after a category where functional nutrition is imperative.

Perennial also has an opportunity to be the voice for an underserved generation. As I’ve written here before, we have a thesis that the 50+ consumer is the best target consumer no one in Silicon Valley is thinking about. In food and nutrition specifically, Mintel reports that 50% of baby boomers report they are doing all they can to fight physical aging, and 69% to fight mental aging. This is driving enormous category growth in nutrition drinks, projected at 68% between 2010 and 2020. Yet there is extremely little innovation: despite consumer trends toward low sugar and clean labels, this (below) remains the ingredient panel of Boost, one of the category leaders. You’ll notice that the first three ingredients are water, glucose syrup, and sugar, followed by milk protein concentrate and a number of processed ingredients.

We know people need something better. We’re excited for Perennial, through their flagship product and more to come, to bring science on longevity and healthy aging right to the consumers who need it.