The 2nd Annual International Plant-Based Food Working Group (IPBFWG) Summit, held in Brussels, Belgium from October 12th to 13th, 2023, exuded enthusiasm for international collaboration and community. Since its formal establishment in 2021, the group has grown from a modest cluster of motivated trade associations into a coalition of twelve inspired and engaged organizations, all converging to underscore the growing organizational prowess of the global plant-based industry.

In 2022, the IPBFWG adopted a well-defined annual plan with a focus on expanding membership, conducting comprehensive global research on plant-based perception, and developing a regranting program. This program aimed to facilitate the formation of country-based associations, designed to combat restrictive labeling regulations for plant-based foods and broaden opportunities in the marketplace. The culmination of these efforts was celebrated during the IPBFWG Summit, where attendees acknowledged substantial progress and charted the trajectory for 2024.

International Coordination Around Plant-Based Labeling Legislation

While the plant-based industry faces a myriad of challenges and opportunities worldwide, the IPBFWG staunchly believes that sharing strategies and resources is pivotal to nurturing growth and resilience in this burgeoning sector. This belief was affirmed as members recounted how international collaboration has been instrumental in helping them navigate the escalating legal threats linked to restrictive plant-based food legislation.

For instance, recent legislative changes in South Africa caused plant-based foods to vanish suddenly from store shelves, prompting the formation of an association dedicated to supporting the region. Similar circumstances led to the creation of associations in Chile and Turkey. The IPBFWG’s network, through the exchange of insights from countries grappling with comparable legislation, has empowered individuals and organizations to take confident action. Effectively addressing labeling legislation is essential to ensure that consumers have access to plant-based foods. The IPBFWG recognizes the significance of this international collaboration and aims to become even more proactive in providing support and guidance to ensure the expansion of plant-based foods, reaching consumers who want these products.

Insights into Consumer Behavior: Paving the Way Forward

Another key focal area for the group was aligning around consumer data on the perception of plant-based foods internationally, including interest in these foods as well as understanding terminology. Led by PBFA’s Julie Emmett and Linette Kwon, preliminary research–derived from custom Qualtrics data–showed a consistent pattern in how consumers engage with plant-based foods. This research further confirmed that consumers understand plant-based terminology and find it most helpful when common meat and milk terms are combined with highlighted plant-based ingredients to describe the foods they’re purchasing.

The IPBFWG plans to further refine these consumer insights, concentrating on the countries represented in the group. These insights will serve as the foundation for shaping IPBFWG’s evolving strategy in addressing legislative challenges and as a backdrop for forthcoming consumer-oriented initiatives aimed at enhancing awareness of plant-based foods.

Setting a Definitive Course for the Future

As the IPBFWG charts its trajectory, a host of exciting prospects unfold. One of these includes the imminent launch of a formal regranting program, organized by the Plant-Based Foods Institute, designed to support qualified individuals and organizations in launching initiatives aimed at addressing bans on plant-based labeling.

The group is also exploring the creation of a universal definition of “plant-based” that could be adopted internationally, potentially paving the way for the establishment of certification programs for plant-based food companies. There was a strong consensus around the necessity of consumer-oriented marketing to foster broad awareness of plant-based foods and to positively influence consumer perceptions regarding their benefits. This alignment within the group further underscored the maturity of the plant-based foods industry and the need for cohesive messaging and campaigns to fuel its growth.

The journey of the IPBFWG embodies a narrative of collaboration, adaptability, and innovation, serving as a testament to the collective dedication of the industry to propel the global plant-based movement forward. Together, the IPBFWG is united in providing the support needed to ensure plant-based foods are given the opportunity to thrive.

More from IPBFWG:

Following the internal summit, the IPBFWG hosted an external event with the theme “The Role of Plant Foods in Transitioning to a Sustainable Food System.” During this event, leaders from around the world convened to explore innovative strategies, shared insights, and discussed the industry’s path forward. In conjunction with the main event, the Industry Forum provided an exclusive platform for industry leaders to discuss critical topics ranging from nomenclature concerning plant-based foods all over the world, the need for fortification, and market growth strategies. Cecillia McAleavy, director of Sustainable Eating & Public Affairs at Oatly; Perran Harey, senior global policy lead at Upfield; Alex Holst, senior policy manager at GFI Europe; representatives from Nestle and others, joined the discourse. 

The Youth Forum brought youth on stage to discuss their role in global food systems, climate change, and key environmental issues facing the globe.