- The plant-based food market has exceeded $5 billion in sales annually. The lion's share came from plant-based milk with sales of $4.2 billion over the past year, according to Grocery Headquarters.
- Data from SPINS, a retail sales data company for the natural and specialty products industry, shows plant-based meat sales topped $606 million in 2016. Refrigerated protein alternatives increased 15.9% in the natural market.
- “The steady growth of the plant-based foods industry shows that consumers continue to shift away from animal products towards plant-based options,” said Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant Based Food.
The recent sales growth provides evidence that plant-based proteins may be here to stay. Today's health-conscious consumer is wary of meat products, especially red meat varieties, which have been attributed to heart disease and other ailments. Plant-based alternatives are seen as cleaner, more nutritious than traditional meat and dairy products.
Innovation in this space also has helped attract consumers on the fence about vegetarian options. This is partially because manufacturers are getting better at imitating meat's appearance, texture and taste. The Impossible Burger, for example, is a vegetarian burger patty that sizzles and bleeds on the grill like real beef — appealing to consumers who love meat but want to better their nutrition.
The plant-based milk category has seen similar improvements, and many companies are driving sales by advertising the superior nutrition of almond, cashew or pea milk to traditional dairy milk. Ripple, a pea-based milk brand, recently created a game that explains how its products have half the sugar and 50% more calcium than dairy milk.
The dairy industry has been struggling to regain the market share taken by plant-based dairy products. The DAIRY PRIDE act was recently proposed in the Senate to push the Food and Drug Administration to bar nut and plant-based milk alternatives from defining themselves as "milk". The measure comes as milk sales are dropping. A recent study by Mintel showed U.S. non-dairy milk sales grew 9% in 2015, while dairy milk sales declined 7% over the same period.
It's unlikely that a lack of the word "milk" on a plant-based milk's packaging will dissuade consumers, however. Shoppers have become accustomed to the category, and consumer interest in personal health and environmental sustainability — big drivers for purchases of plant-based milks and meats — aren't going away anytime soon.