Supply Chain

Going Green: The Plant-Based Food Movement and Your Supply Chain

Do you know what a flexitarian is? How about a climatarian or reducetarian? If you don’t, and your company operates in the food sector, take note. These eaters comprise a growing portion of the American population and their picky preferences are changing food’s supply chain.




You’ve likely heard of vegetarians and vegans. Both consume only plant-based diets, with vegans avoiding animal products completely like milk and eggs. Flexitarians lessen their meat consumption, without eliminating it, in favor of a more plant-based diet. Reducetarians go one step more by also lessening their consumption of animal products. The dietary motivation for these lifestyle choices includes health benefits, minimizing a carbon footprint (climatarian), preventing animal cruelty, and decreasing food and water shortages globally.

Regardless of the reason, these dietary practices are more than just a trend. According to Michele Simon of the Plant Based Foods Association, when mainstream restaurants like Burger King and Carl’s Jr add permanent plant-based menu options, the trend officially represents a widespread movement.

These diets are most prevalent among Millennials, as well as Gen X and Z, who likely will carry the lifestyles with them as they age. Food consultants Baum and Whiteman report about 83% of Americans are adding more plant-based foods to their diets. Google cited a 90% increase in vegan searches for 2018 and Walmart is pressuring suppliers to increase plant-based production. Looks like always having parents say, “eat your veggies!” is finally paying off.


Food’s Fight in the Supply Chain


More Americans embracing a plant-based diet adds complexity to the supply chain. Here’s some food for thought on three major impacts:


Cold Storage Competition

Refrigerated transportation and cold storage space are always in demand. Plant-based food options are supplementing meat options, so refrigerated needs must increase overall on the road, in warehouses, and on store shelves. Between 2012 and 2016 groceries experienced a 25% increase in vegetarian and 257% rise in new vegan product offerings. This number will continue to grow. Barclays reports that plant-based meat products alone will become a $14 billion market within the next ten years.


Supply Chain Speed

Fresh means fast. Consumer stores throw away about 43 billion pounds of food annually, including up to 50% of their fresh produce. To meet changing dietary preferences, all parties along the supply chain must improve speed from farm to table. For transportation providers, warehouses, and stores, this means faster and more frequent inventory turns. The demand requires additional capacity, more staff, or better technology. All three increase supply chain costs.



More people want to know the origins of what they eat. Traceability has moved beyond consumer request to a demand. This mentality applies to all ingredients, not just finished products. Tracing food from start to finish is not easy, so blockchain’s ability for transparently sharing information across parties will become a necessity. More companies may look to near-source plant-based products. This provides better visibility and control over the supply chain while also reducing a food’s carbon footprint. However, keeping things local solves some challenges but introduces another. Near-sourcing involves the intricacies of final mile deliveries and often adds the complexity of refrigeration.


Consider how the plant-based food movement will impact your supply chain. If your company needs cold storage, MWCold is here to keep your supply chain and products “cool as a cucumber.”

Tags: Supply Chain

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