Sector News

US plant-based sales skyrocket beyond US$7B despite supply chain disruptions

March 27, 2022
Food & Drink

Plant-based retail sales are booming with a record year of growth which has bolstered the total plant-based market value to an “all-time high” of US$7.4 billion. This is according to research from the Plant-Based Foods Association (PBFA), The Good Food Institute (GFI) and SPINS.

Plant-based food retail sales grew three times faster than total retail sales, with many plant-based categories outpacing conventional counterparts.

The growth in this category went unscathed by surrounding supply chain disruptions, escalating inflation and COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

“Product innovation is critical for plant-based categories to continue to earn a larger share of the market. Getting more consumers to eat plant-based foods more often requires improved taste and texture to compete with animal products, more product diversity, and greater affordability and accessibility,” says Karen Formanski, GFI’s research and analysis manager.

“As businesses recognize the staying power of plant-based foods, the food industry must seize these opportunities to maximize the vast potential of plant-based alternatives to compete with animal products,” says Formanski.

PB milk and dairy at top of profit pyramid
As the largest category in the plant-based space, plant-based milk now accounts for 16% of all retail milk sales, contributing to US$105 million. Sales grew 33% in the past three years to reach US$2.6 billion, while animal-based milk sales declined by 2% in 2021, a loss of about US$264 million.

About 42% of households purchase plant-based milk and 76% of plant-based milk buyers bought it multiple times in 2021, the research shows. Plant-based milk benefits from product innovation, including ingredient diversification, product development to improve taste, functionality and nutrition.

“The data shows that, despite the challenges of the past two years, retailers and foodservice providers are meeting consumers where they are by partnering with brands across the entire store to expand space, increase assortment, and make it easier than ever to find and purchase plant-based foods,” says Julie Emmett, senior director, marketplace development, PBFA.

“The potential impact of these initiatives extends far beyond the store shelf: By taking consumer concerns to heart, industry is actively embracing its role as a key driver of change that moves us closer to a secure and sustainable food system,” she says.

Consumer research from Innova Market Insights highlights a widespread desire among European consumers to sample more plant-based alternatives across various products. Among flexitarians, trust in the safety of plant-based products is high, but concerns remain over cost and limited choice. The market researcher flagged the growth in the strength and breadth of demand for plant-based F&B products.

Almond milk is the category leader, accounting for 59% of the total category. Oat milk growth is the second-largest segment, growing more than 44 times in the past three years, making up 17% of category sales, up from only 0.5% in 2018.

Ready-to-drink beverages and plant-based creamers now have a 9% share of all creamers sold. In 2021, plant-based yogurt sales grew 9%, three times the rate of conventional yogurt, to a 4.5% dollar share. Plant-based cheese grew 7% and plant-based ice cream and frozen desserts grew 31% over the past two years to reach US$458 million.

Meeting expectations for PB protein
“Shared Planet” leads Innova Market Insights’ Top Ten Trends for 2022, focusing on how both industry and consumers can play their part in shaping a sustainable and prosperous future. The market researcher underscores that consumers now rank planetary health as their number one concern, overtaking personal health, the top priority in recent years.

Plant-based meat, which grew 74% in the past three years, outpaced conventional meat by about three times with a repeat year of US%1.4 billion in sales. Traditional meat unit sales only grew 8% compared with the plant-based meat unit sales in the same period.

“The sustained rise in the market share of plant-based foods is remarkable and clarifies that this shift is here to stay. More and more consumers are turning to plant-based options that align with their values and desire to positively impact personal and planetary health,” says Emmett.

About 19% of households bought plant-based meat in 2021, with 64% of buyers purchasing plant-based beef more than once. Plant-based burgers show the most robust performance.

The fastest-growing plant-based meat product types in 2021 were plant-based meatballs, chicken nuggets, tenders, cutlets and deli slices. Plant-based chicken showed the most significant growth. Plant-based seafood shows the most potential for development at the moment.

The food industry has seen multiple supply chain disruptions and overall volatility in the past few years. Notably, after an overstimulated 2020, the unit sales of almost every single animal-based category experienced negative growth in 2021, and to a lesser extent, so did a couple of select plant-based categories. The plant-based egg category snowballed in 2021 with a 42% increase in sales.

US household estimates
The increased repeat rates in plant-based foods purchases illustrate strong consumer commitment and interest. Approximately 62% or 79 million US households now buy plant-based products. This is an increase from 61% (77 million in 2020).

The research shows that millennials and Gen Z, which comprise 47% of the population and will continue to grow in their spending power, have an exceptionally high demand for plant-based foods. These generations are also increasing their eCommerce spending the most. Ecommerce sales of total plant-based foods grew 47% in the last year to US$351 million, up from $240 million in 2020.

Consumers, particularly Millennials and Gen Z, are motivated by an interest in foods for better health and deliver on positive environmental impact and social responsibility. Plant-based foods are uniquely positioned to meet these consumer needs. Brands and retailers respond to these trends and offer innovative new products and solutions.

By Inga de Jong


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