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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 $5 billion in 2019. Retail sales in the segment rose 11.4% in 2019, while dollar sales jumped 29% since 2017. Major growth came from plant-based meat, which saw a jump of 38% in a year, while plant-based milk now represents 14% 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 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, with a special focus on how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted it. We examine: 

  • Whether the coronavirus pandemic is accelerating the growth of plant-based meat.
  • If dairy providers will enter the plant-based cheese segment, which is full of startups.
  • Why plant-based business pioneers say the sector is just getting started
  • Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat's focus on lowering consumer costs and food safety.
  • Oat milk's popularity in the plant-based dairy space.
  • The longevity of plant-based CPG pioneer Follow Your Heart.
  • Nestlé's plans to further move into the plant-based segment.
  • How plant-based meat companies have pivoted since the pandemic has shut many foodservice venues.

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

Megan Poinski Senior Reporter

Is coronavirus accelerating the growth of plant-based meat?

Sales for the category have exploded as the pandemic disrupts business as usual. Is this because people are turning away from animal-based eating, or is it keeping with the segment's trends?

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?

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.

Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat highlight cost and safety as they race to catch conventional meat

With prices of the animal-based staple heading upwards and potential shortages looming, the two plant-based companies have their eyes on grabbing more market share.

Oat milk surges to second most popular in plant-based dairy

The grain-based beverage likely rose in popularity through a combination of function, taste, nutritional attributes and hype.

How to have 50 years of success in plant-based food: Follow Your Heart

With unflinching ethics and deep commitment to sustainability, the company that practically started the trend grew from a vegetarian lunch counter to a grocery store CPG staple.

For Nestlé, the future of food is rooted in plants

The Switzerland-based company is investing heavily in its Sweet Earth brand and other plant-based offerings to grow in a segment populated by heavyweight competitors and nimble upstarts.

How plant-based meat companies are staying afloat while coronavirus shutters restaurants

Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat and Before the Butcher have all seen sales drop as foodservice establishments close their doors, but are finding new ways to get to customers during the pandemic.

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
  • Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat's focus on lowering consumer costs and food safety.
  • Nestlé's plans to further move into the plant-based segment.
  • The reasons consumers are interested in plant-based meat during the pandemic.
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.