Graciana Méndez
Graciana is a Senior Regional Consumer Insights Analyst for Latin America at Mintel. She is responsible for developing research plans, analyzing consumer and market data, writing research reports on how consumer trends are evolving in the region and presenting insights to clients.

Plant-based can find its place in Latin America (LATAM), provided there’s more clarity of ingredients as well as benefits to the health of people, animals and planet.

Better for the planet needs a little push

Plant-based started as a food trend, rooted in younger consumers who were using their eating habits to promote social and environmental justice.

Lately, however, consumers are becoming more interested in plant-based formulations for a number of reasons, including health benefits and improved animal welfare. The pandemic has played a part, with people viewing plant-based as healthier and safer than meat due to COVID-19’s suspected zoonotic origin.

But there is still work to be done on educating people about the wider environmental benefits. While there is already an understanding that plant-based foods are better for the planet, helping consumers properly understand the link between plant-based foods and environmental gains such as reducing carbon emissions and water use, will encourage more people to limit their meat intake. Nearly seven in 10 Colombian consumers agree that plant-based foods are better for the environment.

Mexican company Asante communicates the positive impact of their plant-based ready-meals on both human and planetary health. The company claims that eating just one vegetable protein-based product contributes to saving enough water equal to 19 showers, avoids 54km of carbon dioxide emissions and rescues 14m² of woods.

Native ingredients and superfoods will help drive interest in plant-based

The plant-based movement in Latin America could gain wider traction if native and sacred superfoods, like Peruvian kiwicha and maca, are adopted and highlighted on pack. They could follow in the footsteps of products such as Deluyum.com Fig and Maca Boost Bites, which are vegan bites with figs and maca powder, a natural energizer or Sanua Cream of Spinach and Tarwi Soup, which contains tarwi, a high-protein seed.

Algae has the potential to grow as it has been explored in Chile – where algae is abundant – by a number of brands such as Quelp’s kelp-based burgers and meatballs, Nun’s algae-based pasta and Munani and Bijelti’s algae-based snacks.

Meat alternatives should call out recognizable ingredients

Meat alternatives in the market are missing out on an opportunity by not calling out their ingredients to get the attention of consumers who will otherwise prioritize ‘real’ or ‘whole’ plant foods, eg grains and legumes.

Many chicken alternatives, like Fazenda Futuro Chicken, focus on flavor, protein content and texture but don’t name any recognizable ingredients. However, there are exceptions. While Nutresa highlights protein and being wheat-based, Andrean Valley boasts its quinoa grains, kale and spices.

Approach vegan and cruelty-free claims in beauty with transparency

Cruelty-free claims are now well established among beauty and personal care products, but plant-based claims are starting to emerge too, especially in highly engaged beauty markets like Brazil. And while vegan claims are growing, in many LATAM markets there’s still not much detail about ingredients and sourcing here. Brands should be transparent about their ingredients and formulations or risk their credibility and the chance that vegan claims become meaningless.

Brazilian brand Twoone Onetwo does this well, featuring a number of vegan, cruelty-free and natural credentials on pack, while also providing an extensive list of ingredients. Meanwhile, Mexican beauty brand Pai pai is open about being cruelty-free rather than vegan because they use beeswax in some of their lipsticks to offer maximum hydration.

With animal testing recently banned in Colombia, brands here are now effectively capitalizing on the attention that cruelty-free claims are receiving. Pure Chemistry has shown their Leaping Bunny certificate on social media and Bardot announced they would transform their manufacturing process to offer 100% vegan makeup.

Emerging vegan and animal-friendly claims serve as inspiration for new markets

Plant-based, vegan and cruelty-free formulations are still rare among household products in some LATAM markets like Peru. However, brands can take inspiration from household products in markets such as Brazil and Colombia, as they are not only innovating with vegan logos and animal-friendly claims but are straightforward about their ingredients and formulations.

Similar to the beauty space, there’s room for plant-based cleaning formulations to grow, considering LATAM consumer interest in formulations that are both free from harsh/toxic chemicals and that use natural ingredients. Brands would also benefit from incorporating plant-powered ingredients that are abundant in Latin America’s biodiverse environment, taking inspiration from the use of natural native ingredients in beauty brands.

There is little doubt that plant-based can find its place in LATAM. The key to reaching more consumers will be clarity of ingredients, clear guidance on how plant-based products can effectively improve the health of people and planet, and also making it affordable and accessible to consumers of all ages.

What we think

As it has in other parts of the world, plant-based has emerged as a buzzword in Latin America. However, for it to become a more meaningful term, brands will need to communicate how it can be good for people, animals and planet.