Growth of the Plant-Based Movement — How innovation has built a mainstream movement

By Julia Sigal

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The Mainstream Wave

Plant-based has taken the health world by storm. From the IPO of the plant-based MEATeor (Beyond Meat — in case you missed the pun) to the release of The Game Changers and its subsequent breaking of the internet, this shift is being driven by a rising tide of “new wave” vegans. Just like Starbucks created the “second wave coffee movement” by introducing craft coffee to the mainstream with affordable and accessible products, plant-based lifestyles are now seeing its way into mainstream culture. This can be broken out in to three major category shifts — perspective, passion, and product (alliteration, a crucial part of all innovative thinking).

The subtle, yet important, shift was the rebrand of the “Vegan” movement into the “Plant-based” movement. For many years, veganism was the predominant terminology used to describe individuals interested in eating non-animal-based products. Vegan, as a noun, indicates a binary state of being — either you ARE or you ARE NOT a vegan. For “Veganism” a rebrand was in order and so became the “Plant-Based” movement. Plant-based, an adjective, is much more fluid, allowing someone to be partially plant-based or fully plant-based. This removal of the “all or nothing” classification allows more people to identify with the space.

Following this was the general interest in health as a driver for plant-based adoption. The “first-wave” of veganism was largely animal-rights driven, with less widespread acceptance of the health benefits of plant-based living. Now, from the continual output of plant-based documentaries (Forks Over Knives, What the Health, Game Changers, etc.) to the rise of vegan athletes and influencers, and the general acceptance of the detrimental effects animal products have on the environment, we’re seeing a rising interest focused on health and the environment. While there are still animal-rights focused vegans, the rising tide today is largely brought about by health and environmental focused newcomers.

Finally, shifts around product availability and innovation have made eating plant-based easier than ever before. Years ago, a plant-based burger may as well have been synonymous with cardboard topped with rubber, but today, innovations in the food industry make plant-based alternatives closer than ever to the animal-based equivalents. For example, Burger King’s Impossible Whopper was one of the most successful product launches in its history, indicating that people are more willing than ever to give these types of products a try. Are all of these products healthy? Probably not, but if we think about them more as a gateway step to more healthy plant-based living then we are seeing the walls around the plant-based world rapidly coming down and more and more people making their gradual entry.

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MUD/WTR Mushroom Chai

Startup Seeds

At 25madison, we have been digging into the plant-based movement across all categories, believing that this wave will not just bring with it great food innovation but innovation spanning into medicine, media and beyond. Companies that are pushing the envelope and introducing new behaviors, like mushroom-chai company MUD\WTR, or companies that are making plant-based cheese products like Parmela Creamery are leading the industry in this transition. Outside of food, however, we’ve explored the entire consumer journey — How are people educating themselves today? What resources are out there to support people along their path? Recognizing the gap in language being used by the industry to speak with this “new wave” vegan, we created The Beet a new media platform in the plant-based world.

As a venture studio, we are constantly on the hunt for what’s new and interesting. We search for people with good ideas, and good ideas that need the right people. As we’ve continue to dive deep into the plant-based world, we have come across many themes and admirable companies developing within them. Some themes we’ve observed and companies tackling them:

  • Creating Aspiration
    We are long-time fans of Forks Over Knives (one of the original vegan documentaries turned plant-based leader) and the other documentaries in the plant based world. Most recently, The Game Changers, a documentary released this past fall pushed our understanding of plant-based health by using celebrities across the sports industry to show how plant-based health can be a ‘game changer’ for performance. “Plant-powered”, the latest term for plant-based athletes, means that you aren’t making sacrifices by choosing a plant-based diet, you’re actually choosing a competitive advantage and an aspirational approach to health.
  • Making the Ugly Beautiful
    Misfit Market is a direct to consumer food box that brings farm to table to life. The catch? All of the foods they deliver are ugly. These foods would have traditionally been thrown away in the process of getting to a retailer increasing the global food waste crisis. Each month, Misfit Market subscribers can get their box of ugly produce shipped directly to their home. Tackling global food waste problem by giving ugly food a chance.
  • Plant-Powered Protein
    The amount of protein and the sources of that protein are hotly debated amongst plant-based opposers, but more and more brands are focused on making it taste great! Bada Bean Bada Boom is a favorite of ours that brings more protein and less fat than many alternatives and is a delicious snack.
  • Plant Based Education
    As there continues to be growing interest from individuals to enter the plant-based world, there’s room for brands that are onboarding these plant-curious folks into the category in new and interesting ways. The Beet, is a plant-based media brand that we incubated internally. Focused on speaking the language of the health-focused, plant-curious consumer, we are tapping into this modern wave and bringing the new consumer resources to meet their needs. Most recently, for example, The Beet launched a partnership with Veecoco to offer its readers plant-based cooking classes.

The Plant-Based world is one of a few themes that we’re exploring at 25madison and will continue to develop within.

If you are working on an early stage idea in this space or are an entrepreneur who would want to collaborate with us, we’d love to hear from you! You can apply directly here

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25madison is an NYC-based venture studio, incubating companies from the ground up and investing in early-stage companies. Learn more at 25madison.com.

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