Plant-Based Movement: From Trendy to Mainstream

Bowl filled with rice and colorful veggies sits on table with blue napkin, silver fork, glass of water
Plant-based bounty
Jan 17, 2020

ARLINGTON, VA -- The term “plant-based” was first coined in 1980 by American biochemist Thomas Colin Campbell, who specializes in the effect of nutrition on long-term health.  Campbell has been a long-time advocate of a low-fat, whole foods, plant-based diet, and his food philosophy is suddenly gaining a lot of traction within the culinary, nutrition, and consumer trends space.  Rice, and more specifically, U.S.-grown rice, marries seamlessly into the philosophy, though proponents need to be reminded why.

Plant-based is a broad term that today indicates expanding one’s diet to include plant-based proteins in place of meat., think the no-meat Whopper from Burger King.  While someone adhering to a plant-based diet, may be vegan or vegetarian these are not requirements to live plant-based.

“It’s more about making a conscious decision to include alternative proteins as part of your diet while not completely eliminating meat,” said Michael Klein, USA Rice vice president of domestic promotion who admits to eating a plant-based “burger” about once per month.  “Think of it as a rotation as opposed to a direct swap.”

Plant-based products have become competitive in both taste and texture, and have seen real buy-in and investment from foodservice and corporate America.

Domestic retail sales of plant-based foods greatly outpaced overall grocery sales in the past year, surging 11 percent, according to data from the Good Food Institute, an independent non-profit that seeks to accelerate the acceptance of plant-based and cell-based meat, eggs, and dairy.  According to industry analysts Datassential, more than half of U.S.  consumers say they are eating more plant-based foods and looking for both healthier and more sustainable diets.  Add that data to the massive corporate investment within the retail space and it’s clear the plant-based movement is nowhere close to peaking.

“The plant-based movement has inspired a lot of consumers to incorporate alternative proteins into their diet and this opens the door to additional consumption of rice,” said Missouri rice farmer Blake Gerard who sells a packaged, high-protein rice called Cahokia.  “Whether it is pairing rice with legumes to make the perfect protein, complementing a plant-based protein, or simply blending with animal meat, this movement is perfect for the inclusion of U.S.-grown rice.  It’s an awesome time to be in the rice industry as the 20’s are going to be roaring with rice!”

Led by Millennials and Gen Z, (those born after 1981), there has also been a notable shift to the “Conscious Consumer,” someone who is actively aware of where their food comes from and the environmental impact of sourcing that food.

“This is where the great opportunity is for U.S.-grown rice,” said Klein.  “Sustainably-grown, transparent farming practices, unparalleled food safety, and limited food miles – and oh right, a plant!  This whole movement is about providing alternative protein options that meet taste and texture expectations while using familiar ingredients.  We intend to capitalize on this.”