- A recent study from DuPont Nutrition & Health found that 52% of U.S. consumers are eating more plant-based foods and they believe it makes them feel healthier. Roughly 60% of respondents said switching to plant-based food was permanent, or they hoped it was, and taste is the main reason why more people don't consume plant-based foods.
- The research, conducted with HealthFocus International, studied the eating habits of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers. It used standard demographic data and divided consumer groups into six areas based on a proprietary health and wellness segmentation model.
- "There is a bright immediate future for this megatrend," Greg Paul, beverage industry marketing leader at DuPont Nutrition & Health, said in a release. "There is a seismic shift occurring in eating habits globally, creating a significant market opportunity. Most important, our research reveals that for most consumers, this has moved beyond experimentation into a permanent change brought on by health, lifestyle and social factors."
These findings aren't surprising given the increasing number of consumers joining the plant-based trend, but it does show the trend is continuing to grow at a fast pace. As consumers increasingly seek out plant-based foods, more companies will likely invest in those products. According to HealthFocus data, 17% of U.S. consumers eat a predominately plant-based diet, and 60% claim to be reducing their consumption of meat-based products.
Although the study found more than half of U.S. consumers are eating more plant-based foods and beverages — and that number jumps to 65% globally — DuPont said it's important to distinguish between people who are limiting their consumption of animal protein and those who are keeping it the same. Of those consumers cutting down on their intake of animal proteins, 55% say the change is permanent.
People reduce or eliminate animal products from their diet for a variety of reasons. Some want to cut back on cholesterol, others may be concerned about animal welfare, and some tend to worry about the effect of animal agriculture on the environment. Whatever the reason, more people are shifting to a vegetarian diet — or a vegan one that includes no animal-sourced products at all. According to a recent Top Trends in Prepared Foods in 2017 report, 6% of the U.S. population identifies as vegan, up from just 1% in 2014.
This evolving consumer mindset is making major financial waves as well. In 2016, total plant-based meat sales topped $606 million. And from June 2017 to June 2018, retail sales of plant-based foods jumped up 20% to $3.3 billion, according to Nielsen data reported by Food Navigator.
Flavor advances have been made in the plant-based segment to address consumers who suspect a meatless meal may not tickle their taste buds. New Hope Network has reported that standard plant-based ingredients such as soy, nuts, beans, greens, grains and vital wheat gluten have gotten makeovers that make them tastier protein sources. At the same time, the plant-based Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger have built audiences that appreciate a meat-like appearance, texture and taste that's very different from a veggie burger made from ingredients like beans, mushrooms and rice.
Growth in the sector has attracted new investment as meat and dairy companies take minority stakes in plant-based companies or acquire them. Last year, Dean Foods bought a minority stake in Good Karma Foods, a manufacturer of non-dairy milk and yogurt products. The dairy company boosted that to a majority interest this summer. Tyson Foods bought a 5% stake in plant-based food maker Beyond Meat in 2016 and increased its investment last year. In September, Perdue Farms said it was considering adding plant-based protein options to its chicken and turkey portfolio.
It's likely more of these investments will occur in the next few years as consumer interest grows in plant-based foods and beverages. As the DuPont study indicates, people are pursuing dietary changes that make them feel good. If plant-based products can do the job — as well as deliver on flavor — that's where more of their purchasing dollars will go.