The next time you’re at the supermarket, take a closer look at the shelves. You’ll find products emblazoned with the term, “plant-based,” in every aisle of the store, from milk to meat to cheese. In fact, plant-based sales have experienced explosive growth over the past several years. In 2020, more than half of U.S. households bought plant-based foods, and the market surged 27% to $7 billion—nearly twice as much as overall U.S. retail food sales—according to the Plant Based Foods Association and The Good Food Institute.
For years, plant-based alternatives, typically made of vegetables, legumes and grains, were widely considered of interest mainly to vegans and vegetarians. Today, however, these delicious and nutritious substitutes have been popping up everywhere, thanks to the increased consumer focus on the beneficial impacts plant-based eating can have on personal health, sustainability, food safety, and animal and environmental welfare. At Knorr, we see the benefits, too. That’s why plant-based innovations are part of our ongoing commitment to enable more affordable nutritious foods.
Suzanne Barr, the principal chef on the Knorr culinary team, sat down with us to discuss the most-pressing questions concerning plant-based diets, her favorite plant-based recipes, and the scoop on where the industry is headed.
A recipe developer, food stylist and cookbook author, Barr has been involved in the food industry for over 30 years. She currently lives with her husband and two daughters in Montclair, NJ.
Q: How did you become a chef with Knorr?
A: After graduating with a degree in food science from Penn State, I launched right into a food career, working in research and product development. Two years later, I steered my career more towards culinary, eventually landing in a test kitchen role for major consumer packaged goods companies for five years before going back to culinary school—at the Institute of Culinary Education—full-time.
After graduating, I embarked on a freelance career and did recipe development and food styling work for various clients, including food magazines—such as Food & Wine and Martha Stewart—and TV commercials and shows, like the Food Network.
Unilever was one of my clients at the time and, while I was working as a consultant, a position opened full-time. The stars aligned, I rejoined the workforce full-time, and I've been with the company for a little over 19 fantastic years now.
Q: Why do you believe it’s important for Knorr to create plant-based alternatives?
A: Knorr’s purpose, at its core, is to make nutritious eating affordable and accessible to everyone, and that includes plant-based eating. It shouldn't be an elitist thing to be able to eat healthy.
A couple of years ago, we embarked on a recipe strategy where I developed a set of 10 highly nutritional recipes that could be done in 10 minutes or less for under $10. We wanted to show consumers just how quickly, easily and affordably they could create nutritious and delicious meals that were authentic to how they eat in their household using Knorr products.
It was very challenging, from a creative perspective, but the work was really important to me. Our work has grown from there, and we have expanded on that strategy as plant-based eating has become more of a priority to our consumers.
Q: Are there any specific plant-based ingredients that resonate with Knorr customers?
Really terrific, quality canned beans, legumes and chickpeas have been a game changer. Consumers might feel a little in the dark about cooking these plant-based alternatives from scratch, or in a dried state, but it’s been fun to show how anyone can easily use these excellent sources of protein as part of a dish or in a meal. They are easy to find in stores and can be incorporated into countless meals that would traditionally involve meat.
Q: What’s one of the biggest misconceptions about plant-based eating?
A: The biggest challenge is overcoming the myth that plant-based diets are not exciting or flavorful. Yes, it might be harder at first to please your whole family, especially if you have younger or pickier eaters, as the texture of certain plant-based proteins may not be as familiar for kids. But it’s all about learning how to get flavorful meal solutions on the table for your family.
What's so great about Knorr is that we have a great variety of different and diverse products. We have Asian and Hispanic flavors. We have more traditional, baseline flavors and creamy, teasing flavors. There are so many ways to use Knorr products to deliver flavor and accent meals with plant-based ingredients.
Q: What are some of your favorite Knorr plant-based recipes?
Two of my favorite things to make using Knorr products are vegetable tacos and burrito bowls. I cook mushrooms and peppers in Knorr’s Bouillon, which adds a rich and complex umami flavor to the vegetables. And for the bowls, you can use Knorr Mexican Rice as the foundation and customize it with layers of beans, corn, sour cream, onions, cilantro, pickled onions and various vegetables. Both are hearty, satisfying meals for the whole family.
Q: What else is Knorr doing to promote and encourage consumers to consider plant-based eating?
A: Knorr is helping teach consumers about the benefits of plant-based eating and incorporating what we've identified as The Future 50 Foods. Plant-based eating is definitely going to be an even bigger part of all our lives moving forward, and we've completely revamped all of Knorr’s recipes to reflect that. We now incorporate plant-based options and alternatives into every recipe that we produce. For example, if it's a meat-based recipe, we provide tips on how to effortlessly transform it into a meatless dish with simple substitutions, like swapping chicken for black beans, squash or tofu.
Q: In terms of sustainability, what’s the role large consumer brands should play in promoting a plant-based diet?
There's definitely a corporate responsibility when it comes to sustainability, and Knorr takes this very seriously. Consumer trends are also headed in that direction as well. People are becoming more aware of how plant-based eating can be not only healthier for their personal diets, but also for the health of the planet. There are so many positive things wrapped up in plant-based eating that go beyond just trying to eat more vegetables.
Keep an eye out for even more plant-based options from Knorr in your local supermarket!