Download PDF

The Power of Plants

There have been many reports in the media over the past few months about the rise of plant based alternatives to more traditional protein sources. In this article, Dan explores Albert Heijn's plant-based protein figures versus those in the UK.

There have been many, many reports in the media over the past few months about the rise of plant based alternatives to more traditional protein sources, and while they’ve been gaining plenty of column inches it’s always been tricky, at least from the outside looking in, to get a sense of scale around just how well they’re performing.

Well, back in April, Albert Heijn came to the rescue for those of us doubting Thomases who were on the lookout for some data to support the media noise.  And what a set of numbers they came up with!  Across 2023 they reported that 44.1% of all proteins which passed through their tills were plant-based.  Now they don’t state whether this is share by volume or value, but whichever metric you choose, this is a big number – and one which really surprised me.

We hadn’t seen anything comparable from any of the big UK retailers in terms of shares of total proteins coming from plants – it would have been great to see them proudly sharing this data and seeing what their plans are to develop in this space.  The Levercliff team conducted a poll across LinkedIn and there was a 93% majority view that the plant-based number from UK retailers would be below that of their European peer.  And you were right, because after some pretty deep searches of annual reports etc the UK retailers come in at either 11 or 12%.  Which might explain why they’re not shouting about it too much….

Albert Heijn go further in their press release, with a goal to increase their plant-based share of proteins sold up to 50% for 2025, and then 60% by 2030.  And they’re actively driving these numbers through collaboration with the Netherlands National Lottery to offer gift cards for use on plant-based products for those buying a ticket. So they’re pushing this message hard and are claiming some great numbers as a result – saving 1,872 tons of CO2in 2023 alone, or the equivalent of 298 plane trips around the globe.

We’re frequently hearing that reducing meat consumption is a key way of helping to arrest the growing climate crisis which we’re all facing.  The Dutch seem to be playing their part, and I’m sure that we are too here in the UK – even if not to quite the same degree.

Albert Heijn launches AH Terra, an own-label plant-based line with 200 products

But, there’s one thing troubling me.  If you check out the widely-shared image o the AH Terra range, Albert Heijn’s own-label plant-based offering, then quite a bit of what you see looks ominously like it will fall under the definition of the much-maligned Ultra Processed Foods.

UPF’s are one of the few food topics to rival Plant-Based Protein in terms of column inches, and their detrimental impact on the UK diet is well documented.  They present a degree of familiarity to their meat-based cousins in terms of an entry point for those looking to cut down on more traditional protein sources, so it may well be that this part of the marketplace is seeing the highest growth figures.

The Levercliff Tracking Survey from February 2024 tells us that 55% of shoppers have an expectation that Food and Drink companies should be developing healthier products, and that awareness of UPF’s is at its highest ever level with 57% of shoppers having them on their radar.  At the same time 21% of respondents believe that there should be a focus on developing more environmentally friendly products – down from 29% the prior year. Some of the messages we’re seeing seem at odds with the rise of plant-powered protein.

It feels like, as in many things in life, there is a natural tension at play here – the climate-friendly opportunity presented by Plant Based Proteins, versus the impact of UPF’s on the waistlines and the health systems of the developed world. It will be fascinating to see how producers and retailers meet this challenge and how we as an industry innovate our way to a better, more sustainable solution.  And to see who is the next to secure the ear of the media and to win the battle for column inches in telling us their story.

To subscribe to our newsletter for more Food & Drink News and Insights, complete the subscription form here. Alternatively follow us on LinkedIn

Photo by Lefteris kallergis on Unsplash

Written by Dan Beck, Category Director

More Levercliff views