The growth of plant-based foods

Courtesy of Field Roast

Note from the editor

When it comes to today's trends in food and drink, it doesn't get hotter than plant-based.

Manufacturers of all types, ranging from startups to veterans, are working to use plants to make substitutes for dairy products, meat and eggs. Any grocery store in the United States today is likely to carry a variety of vegan products mimicking staples that traditionally come from animals.

The plant-based segment is growing rapidly. According to statistics commissioned from SPINS and reported by The Good Food Institute and the Plant Based Foods Association, it had a market value of $7 billion in 2020. Retail sales in the segment rose 27% in 2020, while dollar sales grew by at least 25% in every U.S. Census region. Major growth came from plant-based meat, which saw a jump of 45% in a year, while plant-based milk now represents 15% of the dairy category. 

While today's products can be enjoyed by those who can't eat food from animals because of dietary restrictions, many manufacturers say the true target consumer is the person who does. Creating substitute products that meat, dairy and egg eaters would actually want to eat is the focus of this segment today.

As the coronavirus pandemic has gripped the nation, sales of plant-based products have skyrocketed. Consumers have reached for items with brighter health halos, and have found themselves more interested in food that can promise sustainability and abundance. According to Nielsen, sales of fresh plant-based meat alternatives have nearly doubled every month during the pandemic. In March 2020, grocery stores sold 231% more fresh plant-based food than a year prior. IRI data analyzed by The Good Food Institute saw an even larger increase, with plant-based meat sales 454% higher than the previous year during the week of March 21.

This report looks at the growth of the plant-based foods category. We examine: 

  • The growth of the plant-based sector in 2020.
  • Plant-based chicken's popularity moving forward.
  • Impossible Foods' push to get Generation Z interested in plant-based eating.
  • How PepsiCo is moving into the plant-based space.
  • Lightlife's campaign to make all of its plant-based products clean label.
  • If dairy providers will enter the plant-based cheese segment, which is full of startups.
  • 4 reasons plant-based milk will continue to grow after the pandemic.
  • Why plant-based business pioneers say the sector is just getting started.
  • Whether the coronavirus pandemic is accelerating the growth of plant-based meat.

We hope you enjoy this look at the growth of plant-based foods.

Megan Poinski Senior Reporter

Plant-based food worth $7B in 2020, posting 27% growth

• Published April 6, 2021

Why chicken is taking over plant-based meat

With Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods entering the space and new options filling freezer cases, the potential for the poultry analog suddenly seems limitless.

• Published July 20, 2021

How Impossible Foods is getting Gen Z interested in plant-based meat

With its products in public school cafeterias and a teen-focused website that connects animal agriculture to global warming, the company aims to feed and educate the next generation.

• Published June 21, 2021

PepsiCo is making 'a much bigger play' for sales in the burgeoning plant-based market

The CPG giant has made several acquisitions and introduced new products in an effort to scale quickly and build what it hopes will become household names in the category.

• Published May 19, 2021

Lightlife cleans up all of its labels

After a year of reformulating, all 19 products under the Greenleaf Foods banner have ingredient lists that are recognizable to consumers, which the company considers a necessity for plant-based food.

• Published May 5, 2021

Plant-based cheese is full of startups. Will dairy providers get into the segment?

New players and brands are bringing growth and innovation to the sector, while most traditional companies are hanging back. Are they missing opportunity, or is it not worth their effort?

• Published March 16, 2021

4 reasons plant-based milk will keep growing after the pandemic

Dairy alternatives have gone from trendy to on fire since 2020, and analysts weigh in on what will keep the segment booming in the future.

• Published Nov. 24, 2020

Why plant-based business pioneers say the sector has just gotten started

Animal-free meat, dairy and cheese business was booming in 2020, but leaders said at a virtual conference that price parity, new tech developments and consumer shifts will drive it further.

• Published March 25, 2021

How coronavirus accelerated demand for plant-based food

• Published June 8, 2020

The growth of plant-based foods

The pandemic has driven consumers to reach for items with brighter health halos, with products like meat substitutes and plant-based milk becoming pantry favorites. As the plant-based movement grows momentum, manufacturers of all types are working to create alternatives for dairy products, meat and eggs.

included in this trendline
  • How Impossible Foods is getting Gen Z interested in plant-based meat
  • PepsiCo is making 'a much bigger play' for sales in the burgeoning plant-based market
  • Plant-based cheese is full of startups. Will dairy providers get into the segment?
Our Trendlines go deep on the biggest trends. These special reports, produced by our team of award-winning journalists, help business leaders understand how their industries are changing.
Davide Savenije Editor-in-Chief at Industry Dive.