- According to statistics commissioned from the SPINS market research firm, U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods rose 11.4% last year, for a total market value of $5 billion. Dollar sales jumped 29% during the past two years, the Plant Based Foods Association and The Good Food Institute reported, compared to 4% for total U.S. retail food dollar sales for the same period.
- Major movers in the category were plant-based milks, meat, dairy alternatives and plant-based meals, the groups said. Plant-based milk sales were up 5% in 2019 and comprised 14% of the milk category, while sales of cow's milk were nearly flat, the report noted.
- Plant-based meat sales were up 18% last year, with the category worth more than $939 million. A big growth driver was refrigerated plant-based meat, where sales leaped 63%. Conventional meat sales edged up 3% in 2019, the groups noted. Plant-based meat currently accounts for 2% of retail packaged meat sales.
These latest statistics indicate growth in plant-based food sales shows little signs of slowing down. In 2018, plant-based sales posted another 11% rise, for a total market value of $4.5 billion.
Plant-based dairy was a prime mover last year, with cheese sales climbing 18% and creamers up 34%. That category comprised 40% of the entire plant-based food market, the data showed. While almond milk is still out ahead of the pack, oat-based beverages such as Oatly and Planet Oat are rapidly catching up.
Also showing increasing strength last year were refrigerated plant-based meat products, with the Beyond Burger, the Awesome Burger from Nestlé's Sweet Earth Foods, Hormel's Happy Little Plants lineup and a number of others being sold in refrigerated meat cases of grocery stores. According to The Good Food Institute, Kroger tested plant-based meat in a special plant-based protein section in meat aisles for 20 weeks last fall, which it called a good example of this change in retail strategy to help boost sales.
The popularity of these products resulted in a 123% jump in sales of refrigerated plant-based burgers last year and a 4% drop in their frozen counterparts, the latest statistics found. It's possible companies shift focus away from frozen options, although they currently make up about two-thirds of the category.
Julie Emmett, the PBFA's senior director of retail partnerships, said in a release that plant-based foods remain a growth engine. She said retailers are adding shelf space to respond to demands from consumers looking for more plant-based food items. They also want healthier foods and more protein.
Research tends to bear this out. According to a recent study from DuPont Nutrition & Health, 52% of U.S. consumers are eating more plant-based foods — and they believe it makes them feel healthier. A January survey of 1,000 U.S. adults from the International Food Information Council found 41% like plant-based meat substitutes because they enjoy checking out new foods, 30% were curious because of what they had heard about the products, 27% were wanting to eat less meat, and 27% thought switching to plant-based was easier on the environment.
The 2019 plant-based sales statistics are likely to fuel more worries for producers of conventional dairy and meat products as they watch the plant-based segment continue to chip away at their market share. Some industry players such as Perdue and Tyson have gotten into plant-based meat alternatives, but those that don't could face more sales losses. Meat producers could potentially minimize that decline by focusing even more on their sustainability efforts to boost their image with consumers.
The conventional meat industry isn't likely to get a reprieve since there's no indication the growth rate in plant-based products will fall. In fact, the groups said retail sales of plant-based meat could exceed $1 billion sometime this year.
Caroline Bushnell, GFI's associate director of corporate engagement, said in the release that plant-based is a lasting trend that is gaining power over time and fueling increasing developments in new products besides the ones consumers are most familiar with.
"From the data, we see a steady rise in plant-based products year over year across regions, which indicates that this is not a bubble or a fad, but a real change in consumer behavior," she said. "This is a tipping point and there is so much product innovation yet to hit the market, well beyond the burger."