WEST LAFAYETTE, IN — The term “plant-based diet” has been circulating in the US since the 1980s without any formal definition, but now it is one of the trendiest topics in the food industry.

Originally used to describe a niche population following vegan diets, today the term “plant-based” has evolved to mean anyone who is actively trying to reduce the number of animal products they eat. Plant-based eating is also often paired with buzzwords like “flexitarian,” “alternative” and “better-for-you” (BFY).

A quick walk through the grocery aisles reveals ever-expanding product selections of alternative meats, dairy-free alfredo sauces and even egg- and dairy-free baked goods, all trying to capture a piece of the plant-based food market that is expected to reap a 19.4% CAGR over the next six years, according to Grand View Research.


Underlying this rapid growth are trends that are gaining momentum, and plant-based products should be considered part of the new normal for doing business in a crowded bakery marketplace.

In a 2020 survey from Archer-Daniels Midland, 44% of respondents said they were actively pursuing a flexitarian diet, going hand-in-hand with the BFY market. Increasing interest in plant-based diets are usually driven by a three main reasons: health factors, dietary preferences and sustainability.

Consumers are concerned with high levels of saturated fats and cholesterol often found in animal products, and they are drawn to the fiber and disease-fighting polyphenols in plant-based products. Plant-based eaters are also more likely to be concerned with their total protein intake, so product lines that feature plant-based protein are particularly important on the health front.


For bakeries, an important segment of consumers who care about health factors include the 8.7 million Americans with allergies to egg and dairy, two of the hardest ingredients to remove from baked goods. However, taking out eggs and dairy is not enough to gain the elusive health-halo customers crave. These products also need to be clean-label and ideally include a unique plant ingredient, such as cauliflower for pizza crust or spinach in wraps, to have the positive associations consumers are looking for.

Dietary preferences as the result of religious and ethical beliefs, shifts toward vegetarianism and more are also driving the plant-based market, with 61% of females and 60% of males ages 18-34 reporting that that they sometimes or always eat a vegetarian diet, according to a 2019 Harris Poll conducted on behalf of the Vegetarian Resource Group.

The enormous sustainability levels that come from eating a plant-based diet is also a driving factor. A 2019 assessment from the University of Wageningen found that eggs and dairy require 4.5 lbs. of protein in feed for every pound of protein produced. The production of animal proteins also requires huge amounts of water and generates significantly more greenhouse gases when compared to currently available plant-based alternatives. These factors are an area of public concern as topics like climate change and water scarcity become increasingly top of mind, particularly with younger audiences.


Capturing a piece of the growing plant-based market means reformulating indulgent snack cakes and fillings without the use of eggs or dairy. However, with the recent improvements in technology around producing meat and dairy alternatives, consumers have come to expect plant-based products that are as good or better than the original, oftentimes without the use of ingredients that would break their idea of clean label. This means that products need to maintain the chewy, creamy and fatty textures that milk and eggs provide without compromising on flavor or clean ingredients.

Although it may be a tall order, these traits are possible to achieve in a cupcake, cookie, bread and beyond thanks to new ingredient innovation. And as plant-based eating is planting roots in the hearts (and stomachs) of many consumers, bakers need to get on board.