San Francisco, CA, March 7—Daiya Foods, Follow Your Heart, Miyoko's Kitchen, The Tofurky Company and Upton’s Naturals have established the Plant Based Food Association (PBFA), with 18 charter members and counting. This is the first trade group representing the plant-based food sector, which has been growing dramatically. According to SPINS, sales of food incorporating plant proteins have increased 8.7% through 2014 and 2015, while overall sales of food products only grew 3.7% (SPINSscan Conventional, 52 weeks ending 1/24/16 versus the prior 2 years).

According to this same date, total market for this sector tops $3.5 billion (excluding data from Whole Foods Market), with plant-based milk driving these sales by $2.1 billion. That is a 14.4% increase in total sales by volume over the last two years. Plant-based meat substitutes such as meatless burgers, nuggets, tempeh and tofu drive over $865 million in sales, with burgers representing the largest portion of sales, but tofu leading growth at over 7% in the past two years.

“With a new trade association focused on developing this industry further, we expect these figures will continue to grow in the coming years as new products are launched to meet consumer interest and demand,” says Kora Lazarski, strategic alliance manager at SPINs.

With such impressive growth and clear consumer demand, it’s important for plant-based food companies to protect their interests as well as those of consumers who purchase their products. “Every other sector of the food industry—from sugar to organics—is represented in the policy arena,” said Michele Simon, executive director of The Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA). “The time has come for the plant-based food industry to also have a collective voice.”

In Washington, D.C., the association will be working with Elizabeth Kucinich. She is a leading health and sustainable food advocate who recently offered remarks to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about how the Dietary Guidelines should encourage a shift toward plant-based food for the sake of public health and environmental sustainability.

“MELT Organic would like advocacy around dietary guidelines as they relate to a new health paradigm regarding fat and especially fruit-based sources of saturated fat,” explains Meg Carlson, CEO of the Boise, ID-based company, which is a charter member of the organization. “MELT would also like advocacy regarding expanding the traditional definition of dairy products like butter to include plant-based alternatives rather than terms like buttery spreads and buttery sticks (similar to the expanded definition of mayonnaise, for example).”

While this is only one perspective, it is an excellent example of the challenge plant-based food companies face against mainstream companies that have been honing their influence for decades. By establishing PBFA, plant-based food companies will be able to more effectively challenge the status quo and make the food market more competitive by trying to create more equal footing with conventional brands.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine May 2016 (Online 3/21/2016)