With every passing year, the vegan food industry seems to get more exciting, more innovative, and more, well, mainstream—2023 was no different. Last year, Kraft finally gave us a dairy-free version of its iconic blue box mac and cheese, Taco Bell launched Vegan Nacho Sauce, and the American Heart Association gave its seal of approval to Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. And those are just a handful of highlights. Here, we’re reflecting on some of the most exciting trends from last year, but, of course, we’re also looking ahead to the year in front of us. What could 2024 bring? We don’t have a crystal ball, but we think things are about to get even more exciting in the vegan food world. Get ready for the bar to be raised, once again.
Looking back on 2023: 5 of the biggest trends in the plant-based movement
1 Young people increasingly chose plant-based
In 2023, more young people seemed to embrace plant-based foods for the planet and for their health. In the summer, one survey, conducted by OnePoll, found that 77 percent of younger generations want to know more about the climate impact of their food choices when ordering from restaurants. In the spring, one landmark study conducted at three universities in the US found that when students are given a plant-based option as the default, more than 80 percent will choose it. Another survey conducted in the spring found that only 8 percent of Gen Zers who aren’t plant-based already would refuse to go vegan.
2 There was more of a focus on the link between food and health
In 2022, vegan, alcohol-free booze started to really take off, as people started choosing low- and non-alcoholic beverages for their health. And in 2023, the search for health and wellness continued, with a big focus on food. Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones trended on Netflix, for example, as viewers sought to learn more about the world’s healthiest, longest-living communities, all of whom follow a predominantly plant-based diet.
Several studies also backed up the idea that plants are best, but one study, released in November by Stanford Medicine, arguably caught the attention of the mainstream the most. Focusing on identical twins, the research was seen by many as the closest thing to definitive proof we have that a plant-based diet is one of the healthiest ways to eat. A documentary all about the study was released on Netflix on January 1, 2024.
The Hershey Company
3 Candy giants caught on to the vegan hype
What’s life without a little treat every now and again? Thanks to Hershey’s, you can now follow up your veggie-packed, Blue Zone-inspired dinner with a vegan version of its iconic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, or maybe a vegan Hershey’s chocolate bar. Both hit the shelves in 2023. “Our purpose is to create more moments of goodness for consumers,” a spokesperson for The Hershey Company told VegNews. “We are excited to make those moments more accessible now for chocolate lovers looking for plant-based alternatives.”
Ellen von Unwerth
4 More celebs backed plant-based lifestyles
Not everyone likes it, but it’s true: we live in a world where celebrities—including actors, reality stars, athletes, and musicians—are arguably some of the most influential members of society. And in 2023, many decided to throw the weight of that influence behind the vegan movement.
Khloe Kardashian and Kris Jenner promoted dairy-free Country Crock, and Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker continued their partnership with vegan chicken brand Daring Foods. Sharon Osbourne, Olivia Colman, and Emma Thompson were among the celebrities who backed a successful campaign calling for a new plant-based food category to be added to Prince William’s climate-focused Earthshot initiative. And Billie Eilish and Finneas announced they are set to bring a new vegan restaurant to Los Angeles. And that’s just scratching the surface—catch up on our celebrity-focused news stories here.
5 Vegan messaging hit the mainstream media
As mentioned above, plant-based food and the vegan movement are no longer on the fringes of society. In the last few years, it has been firmly making its way to the mainstream, but you could say that 2023 was the year it finally arrived.
In the spring, the globally-loved Sesame Street character Cookie Monster appeared in an almond milk advert for Califia Farms, and Burger King launched a new global vegan chicken TV campaign. In the summer, Terry Crews’ new creative agency released an advert for its first-ever client, the plant-based meat brand Impossible Foods. And in December, a history-making vegan commercial was shown in theaters ahead of Wonka, one of the biggest films of the year.
Vegan food predictions for 2024
Last year set the stage for an even bigger 2024, and we’re so excited to bring you all the latest news and trends throughout the year. Here are just a few of the themes we’re expecting to see dominate—we don’t know for sure, but we’re prepared to bet that it’s going to be an exciting 12 months.
1 Ultra-processed is out, whole foods are in
Ultra-processed foods were in the hot seat throughout 2023, with studies suggesting that hot dogs, potato chips, and fizzy drinks are putting our health at risk. The topic is nuanced, however. A bacon sandwich and French fries are not the same as canned beans, for example—the latter has far more nutrients, but both are considered ultra-processed (read more on these nuances here).
In general, people are responding to the negativity surrounding ultra-processed foods by reaching for more plant-based whole foods. And that’s no bad thing (read more about the major health benefits of a whole food, plant-based diet here).
According to Whole Foods Market’s 2024 trend report, this year, shoppers are set to focus on foods like walnuts, tempeh, legumes, and buckwheat. In fact, Cathy Strange, Whole Foods Market’s ambassador of food culture, declared to the New York Times that 2024 is going to be “buckwheat’s year.”
2 Mushrooms, mushrooms, and more mushrooms
We said it last year, and we’ll say it again this year: mushrooms are having a moment. And it’s arguably no big surprise that this plant-based staple is going from strength to strength. They’re not only packed with nutrition, but they are versatile, tasty, and they have a meaty texture when cooked without having to be excessively processed. For that reason, brands are going to be hot on using mushrooms in every which way throughout 2024.
“People will discover mushrooms in every food and beverage category and product developers will find ways to weave in ancient wisdom into new craveable food formats,” Whole Foods Market trendspotter Kantha Shelke said in a statement.
3 Food (and drink) will become about function, as well as taste
The functional food market has been simmering for some time, but in 2024, it’s really set to pick up some speed. Prebiotic sodas, for example, are getting more popular by the day, with brands like Olipop, Poppi, and Hip Pop helping to grow the market. And once again, mushrooms are taking the spotlight, not just for their nutrients and meaty texture, but for their functional benefits. Some research has indicated that fungi varieties like chaga, cordyceps, and lion’s mane, now sold in powder supplements and teas, may help to regulate the immune system, fight cancer, and support cognitive ability. Fermented vegan yogurt, hailed for its gut benefits, and even functional granola are more examples of functional foods that could take off this year.
Seed to Surf
3 Vegan tinned fish will take off
The plant-based seafood category keeps growing. In 2023, Australia-born company Boldly debuted the world’s biggest-ever selection of vegan seafood, and food technology company Oshi announced it had created a groundbreaking vegan salmon for the US restaurant market. In November, a new coalition, called Future Ocean Foods, was formed among 36 vegan companies to promote sustainable, plant-based alternatives to seafood.
Throughout 2024, this commitment to overhauling the seafood industry is only going to get stronger. But one subcategory, in particular, is going to be big: tinned vegan fish. The market has already started growing, led by brands like Seed to Surf and Loma Linda, but Whole Foods Market thinks this year more brands are going to get in on the trend. And The Specialty Food Association (SFA) agrees that more vegan seafood development is coming.
“Historically, this has been a challenge for producers as the textures are particularly hard to mimic,” SFA trendspotter Chala June said in a statement. “But with advancing technology, more brands are going to take a swing at it.”
5 Across the food industry, sustainability is the keyword
For the sake of the planet, sustainability needs to be the biggest trend in food this year. And according to Whole Foods Market, it just might be. The grocery store’s report predicts that water conservation and stewardship, in particular, are going to be a key focus for brands.
SFA agrees. “Regenerative, upcycled, and sustainably packaged are not just buzzwords but keywords in consumers’ quests to eat well while doing good,” said trendspotter Jonathan Deutsch.
The Sustainable Restaurant Association is also predicting more “planet-friendly kitchen practices” and more sustainability-motivated diners this year. In its 2024 predictions (many of which, but not all, focused on plant-based ingredients), the association noted that more chefs will be looking to source ingredients from regenerative farms, as well as designing their menus with “biodiversity in mind.”