April 7, 2021
The growth rate for the U.S. plant-based food market more than doubled in 2020, as sales surged 27% to $7 billion, according to the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) and The Good Food Institute (GFI).
Plant-based food sales rose nearly twice as much as overall U.S. retail food sales, which climbed 15% in 2020 as COVID-19 lockdowns nationwide forced temporary closures of restaurants and spurred consumers to stock up on groceries, PBFA and GFI said Tuesday. What’s more, dollar sales growth for plant-based foods proved to be consistent across the country, with the market posting gains of over 25% in all U.S. census regions.
In 2019, U.S. plant-based food sales reached the $5 billion mark with year-over-year growth of 11.4%, compared with 2.2% growth for total U.S. retail food sales. The gain was a bit higher than in 2018, when sales of plant-based foods rose 11% to $4.5 billion versus 2% growth for the overall food retail market.
Last year, 57% of households bought plant-based foods, up from 53% in 2019.
“The data tells us unequivocally that we are experiencing a fundamental shift, as an ever-growing number of consumers are choosing foods that taste good and boost their health by incorporating plant-based foods into their diet,” PBFA Senior Director of Retail Partnerships Julie Emmett said in a statement on the 2020 market performance. “As this industry surpasses the $7 billion threshold, PBFA is excited to continue our work to help build a sustainable infrastructure, including domestic ingredients sourcing, for this growing demand to expand access to plant-based foods.”
Two categories now account for over $1 billion in sales: plant-based milk at $2.5 billion and plant-based meat at $1.4 billion, representing 35% and 20% of the total plant-based food market, respectively. Other plant-based dairy—including segments such as butter, creamer, cheese, yogurt and ice cream—totaled $1.9 billion in sales for 2020, up 28% year over year and accounting for 27% of the plant-based food market.
Of the billion-dollar categories, plant-based meat saw the largest growth in 2020, with sales up 45% from $962 million in 2019. PBFA and GFI noted that plant-based meat sales growth doubled that of conventional meat and now represents 2.7% of all retail packaged meat sales.
Eighteen percent of U.S. households purchased plant-based meat last year, up from 14% in 2019. Frequent purchasers accounted for much of the growth, as 63% of shoppers were high-repeat customers. Refrigerated plant-based meat sales rose 75% in 2020, with in-store placement of the products near conventional meat providing a sales catalyst, PBFA and GFI said. In addition, refrigerated plant-based meat sales grew more than twice as fast as frozen plant-based meat sales, which gained 30% in 2020, 10 times faster than in 2019.
Plant-based milk, the largest plant-based food category, posted a 20% dollar sales gain in 2020, up from 5% in 2019, and doubled the growth rate of cow’s milk, PBFA and GFI reported. Thirty-nine percent of U.S. households now buy plant-based milk.
Almond milk represents about two-thirds of plant-based milk dollar sales, followed by oat milk, which saw sales more than triple in 2020 and surge 25-fold since 2018. In terms of total share among dairy categories, including conventional offerings, plant-based milk now makes up 15% of the milk segment, plant-based butter 7% of the butter segment, and plant-based creamer 6% of the creamer segment. In natural food stores, plant-based milk holds a 45% share of overall milk sales.
“2020 was a breakout year for plant-based foods across the store. The incredible growth we saw in plant-based foods overall, particularly plant-based meat, surpassed our expectations and is a clear sign of where consumer appetites are heading,” GFI Research Analyst Kyle Gaan observed. “Almost 40% of households now have plant-based milk in their fridge, and at this rate, it won’t be long until we see just as many households purchasing plant-based meat.”
PBFA and GFI noted that plant-based milk’s widening acceptance among consumers is lifting other plant-based dairy product segments, which in some cases are seeing growth faster than conventional animal products. In 2020, plant-based yogurt sales rose 20%, almost seven times that of conventional yogurt; plant-based cheese sales were up 42%, nearly twice that conventional cheese; and plant-based eggs sales grew 168%, almost 10 times the rate of conventional eggs. Since 2018, sales in the plant-based egg segments are up over 700%, 100 times the rate of conventional eggs.
The coronavirus pandemic boosted retail sales of plant-based foods at a time of increased consumer focus on personal health, sustainability, food safety and animal welfare, PBFA and GFI added. During the peak panic-buying period, plant-based food sales soared by 90%, about 25% higher than the growth for overall food sales. Shoppers' rush to stock up emptied store shelves and cases in a range of staple food categories, including meat, dairy and frozens.
Citing findings from market researcher Mintel, PBFA and GFI said 35% of U.S. consumers agree with the statement, “The COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic proves that humans need to eat fewer animals.” In turn, plant-based product claims on-pack climbed 116% among U.S. food and drink introductions between 2018 and 2020.
Market data for the PBFA and GFI report was commissioned from wellness-focused data and retail analytics firm SPINS. The figures reflect natural, specialty gourmet and conventional grocery multi-outlet retail sales of plant-based foods that directly replace animal products—including meat, seafood, eggs, dairy and meals containing plant-based alternatives—for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 27, 2020. For the same time period, SPINS also provided shopper data from the National Consumer Panel, a Nielsen/IRI joint venture encompassing about 100,000 households.
“The plant-based category has evolved to the point that retailers can’t limit who they consider the plant-based shopper. They should now assume everyone is a potential plant-based buyer and educate them enough to see the possibilities,” SPINS Head of Retail Dawn Valandingham commented. “Between the innovation in plant-based products and the gradual return to less restrictive shopping measures, 2021 offers many opportunities for retailers to appeal to more customers and expand their plant-based offerings.”
This piece originally appeared on Supermarket News, a New Hope Network sister website. Visit the site for more grocery trends and insights.
About the Author(s)
You May Also Like
Expo East celebrated innovations, ideas that help the industry growSep 29, 2023
Vision 2030: Insights from Today’s State of Natural You Can UseSep 29, 2023
Notable trends a New Hope editor captured at Expo EastSep 28, 2023
CPG veterans launch equity investment firm for purpose-driven brandsSep 28, 2023