A large number of consumers are modifying their diets, eating less meat and dairy and more fruits and vegetables. Some make the switch to an entirely vegan or plant-based lifestyle, but still more are flexible about what they can or cannot eat. “A third of the population considers themselves to be flexitarian, compared to a tenth of the population [identifying as] vegan,” explains Mark Olivieri, CMO of OWYN, based in Fairfield, NJ. “A flexitarian might eat a plant-based diet five days a week, but also ‘flexes’ and consumes meat two days a week.”
The goal for all parties is better health and nutrition and they are not only achieving this through healthier, plant-focused meals but also by supplementing their health with plant-based proteins, superfoods and greens that are rich in nutrients and ideal to consume on-the-go and between meals to avoid unhealthy snack choices and reduce food cravings. This is a growing phenomenon fueled by the way information proliferates via social media and the power “influencers” can have on a generation of people who are consuming content through their smart phones and computers.
“Millennials are the trend setters, creating groundswell movements through their use of social platforms, which are being used to showcase brands and lifestyles,” says Olivieri. “These influencers are being influenced by other influencers — creating a top down nutrition movement. Prominent social influencers including MDs, RDs, functional medicine [practitioners], allergists, athletes, vegan, and fitness influencers are showcasing the benefits with real personal testimonies of how a plant-based diet has increased overall wellness.”
Tapping this audience of plant-curious millennials by having the right inventory and additional information to help them make informed decisions also opens up the rest of your inventory to new eyes and business.
It has become a cliché at this point for non-vegans to criticize the vegan and plant-based lifestyle by saying that those individuals do not get sufficient protein in their diets. However, innovation in the plant protein space challenges these claims. From food sources, vegans relied on legumes, beans and nuts to get their share of protein. Protein powders were seemingly relegated to the pantries of muscle-bound gym-goers and were made of whey, but proteins made from soy, pea, brown rice, etc. continued to innovate, improving their flavor and nutritional profiles.
“The elephant in the room is that plant-based proteins traditionally have had an inferior taste and texture experience compared to animal based protein,” says Olivieri. “This is changing due to improved manufacturing processes including quality and sourcing of raw materials and taking the time to develop a product with zero compromises. OWYN was developed over 4 years to ensure a product experience that is uncompromised in both taste and quality.”
Now, there are vegan muscle-bound gym-goers who take plant-based protein as well as everyday people looking to supplement the protein in their diets simply to have proper nutrition. “It’s true, protein supplementation seemed to first gain traction with athletes,” says Russ Crosby, CEO of SunWarriors, based in Washington, UT. “We find that the target has shifted to include the everyday person, not just athletes, and not necessarily vegans and vegetarians. We believe that ‘vegan’ means more than something free of animal products; it is a perfect descriptor synonymous with clean and unadulterated.”
The key to quality protein is having the right amino acid profile, specifically branch chain amino acids, especially if you’re looking for fitness results. The type of protein used is key to get the desired amino acid profile. “A few years ago, soy was the key plant protein source used in most food and beverage items that required plant protein,” explains Olivieri. “Soy delivers all essential amino acids and therefore, is a complete form of protein. However, there are rising allergen concerns in the US (1/4 of the population is impacted by an intolerance or allergy) and soy is one of the villains since it is a top food allergy.”
OWYN, for example, blends pea protein, organic pumpkin seed, and organic flaxseed, “to deliver all essential amino acids in the right ratio to be a true replacement to dairy-based protein (i.e. whey).” In addition, the products are free of the top eight allergens and the firm tests each batch before they go to market.
It’s also important to meet the variety of needs of consumers. Athletes will want something different from the average Joe. Crosby explains that SunWarriors has three proteins which target different customers and their various needs. “Athletes generally prefer Warrior Blend for the amount of BCAAs, enhanced energy, and increased recovery that it provides.” explains Crosby. “Classic Plus speaks to those with discerning tastes, where flavor matters as much as protein content and quality ingredients. And the Classic brown rice protein appeals to our granola eco-warriors.”
Essential fatty acids (EFA) are essential because they do not synthesize naturally in the body, and have to be sourced from food. Most individuals get their EFAs, omega-3 in particular, from fish and fish oil supplements. For those who seek out plant-based sources of omegas, there are several options.
“Plant-based omegas can come from seed oils like flax, sunflower, pumpkin, etc. but they can also come from algae-sourced DHA and EPA,” explains Robert Dadd, product information supervisor for Flora Health, based in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. “The omegas found in seed oils are the ‘parent’ omega 3s and 6s: alpha-linolenic (ALA) and linolenic acid (LA), a portion of which can be converted to their long-chain forms like EPA, DHA, GLA, etc.”
Like EPA and DHA, there is evidence that consumption of ALA can reduce the risks of heart disease. One study found that women who had a diet high in ALA (1.5 g per day) had a 46% lower risk of sudden cardiac death compared to those with diets low in ALA (1). Another meta-analysis found that high intake of linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, was associated with a 15% lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) events and a 21% lower risk of CHD deaths (2). Adults should consume between 1 and 2 g of ALA per day. In terms of how much flax to eat, Dadd explains that one tablespoon of ground flax has up to 1.8 g of ALA while one tablespoon of flax oil contains up to 8 g of ALA.
When it comes to DHA sourced from algae, Dadd points out, “There’s no substantial difference between DHA from algae or DHA from fish other than how they’re obtained; the body will utilize both the same. However, algae-sourced DHA does not carry the same concerns for oceanic pollutants and depletion of fish stocks as fish-sourced DHA.”
The key to proper nutrition is having the ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6. Unfortunately, the average American’s diet is much richer in omega-6 than it is omega-3, which heightens the inflammatory response in the body. So while vegetable oils can be a great source of omega-6, it’s important to significantly improve one’s consumption of omega-3s. One plant-based source mentioned above is algae, but some great additional sources are chia and hemp seed. In terms of omega-3 content, chia seeds provide about 2.4 g of omega-3s per tablespoon (3). “Let’s not overlook Chia, one of the highest known plant-based sources of omega fatty acids, specifically omega-3,” says Zach Adelman, founder & CEO of Navitas Organics, based in Novato, CA. “Chia Seeds are tiny and mighty and pack a solid nutritional punch. We call them ‘the most versatile superfood’ because they have a mild nutty taste and can easily be added to just about anything.”
Hemp seeds provide about 1 g of omega-3s per tablespoon, though as Adelman explains, have the ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 which is about 3:1 (3). “Navitas Organics offers an unroasted and gently hulled Hemp Seed sourced from Canada…are buttery soft and delicious and can be incorporated into almost any food or smoothie,” he says. Hemp powder is a little bit different, he explains, making it an excellent protein source, in addition to omega-3s. “Hemp Powder…differs greatly in fat and protein content from the seeds…because Hemp Powder results from cold pressing the oil from the seeds, therefore reducing the overall fat content while bolstering the protein content up to nearly 50% protein by weight,” Adelman explains.
Hemp extracts (not to be confused with hemp oil) rich in phytocannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) are also becoming a big part of people’s lives because consumers find the phytocannabinoids to provide immense benefits when it comes to their overall health, stress response and even in recovery for athletes.
Research shows that the endocannabinoid system governs many functions in the human body including mood, sleep and hormone production. Author John Hicks, MD writes that the endocannabinoid system “interconnects all systems, organs and tissues and responds to changes in the internal and external environment…to keep our bodies functioning at their best by adapting to change” (4). Two types of cannabinoid receptors in the body, CB1 and CB2, are located in every organ system.
Hector Lopez, M.D., scientific and medical advisor to CV Sciences, based in San Diego, CA, emphasizes the…