The data, released April 6 by the PBFA and The Good Food Institute (GFI), found U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods was consistent across the nation, with more than 25% growth in every U.S. census region. The plant-based food market grew almost twice as fast as the total U.S. retail food market, which increased 15% in 2020 as COVID-19 shuttered restaurants and consumers stocked up on food amid lockdowns. Fifty-seven percent of households now purchase plant-based foods, up from 53% in 2019. GFI and PBFA commissioned the data from SPINS and custom refined the data to reflect only plant-based products that directly replace animal-based products. Data found U.S. sales of plant-based dairy, meat and eggs have outpaced sales of conventional animal products for the third consecutive year.
Plant-based milk make up the largest plant-based category, reaching $2.5 billion in retail sales and accounting for 35% of the total plant-based food market. The plant-based milk category grew 20% in dollar sales, up from 5% in 2019. Plant-based milk grew twice as fast as cow’s milk and is now purchased by 39% of U.S. households. Almond milk remains the category leader and accounts for about two-thirds of plant-based milk dollar sales. Oat milk catapulted to the second-leading segment, ahead of soy milk, with sales more than tripling in 2020 and growing 25-fold since 2018. Plant-based product share of all conventional categories is increasing, with plant-based milk now making up 15% of the milk category, plant-based butter making up 7% of the butter category, and plant-based creamer making up 6% of the creamer category. While plant-based milk boasts a significant share of milk sales in all stores at 15%, it constitutes an even greater share of milk sales in natural food stores at 45%.
The success of plant-based milk has laid the groundwork for major increases in sales of other plant-based dairy products, which are collectively approaching $2 billion. Across the store, plant-based food dollar sales are growing faster than those of many conventional animal products. In 2020, plant-based yogurt grew 20%, almost seven times the rate of conventional yogurt; plant-based cheese grew 42%, almost twice the rate of conventional cheese; and plant-based eggs grew 168%, almost 10 times the rate of conventional eggs. The plant-based egg category grew more than 700% from 2018, 100 times the rate of conventional eggs.
Plant -based meat—the second-largest plant-based category—hit $1.4 billion in 2020, with sales growing 45%, up from $962 million in 2019. The plant-based meat category grew twice as fast as conventional meat and now accounts for 2.7% of retail packaged meat sales. Approximately 18% of U.S. households now purchase plant-based meat, up from 14% in 2019. What’s more, 63% of shoppers are high-repeat customers. Refrigerated plant-based meat sales grew 75% in 2020, with products increasingly shelved adjacent to conventional meat. Placement in the meat section helped propel growth in the segment, with refrigerated plant-based meat sales increasing more than twice as fast as frozen plant-based meat sales that increased 30% in 2020—10 times faster than in 2019.
The COVID effect
The pandemic gave retail sales of plant-based foods an extra boost at a time when interest in the sector was already surging, driven by a focus among consumers on personal health, sustainability, food safety and animal welfare. These factors will continue to propel consumption of plant-based foods. According to Mintel, 35% of U.S. consumers agree with the statement “the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic proves that humans need to eat fewer animals.” The market has responded by meeting consumer interests with plant-based claims on-pack rising 116% among U.S. food and drink introductions between 2018 and 2020.
“The data tells us unequivocally that we are experiencing a fundamental shift as an ever-growing number of consumers are choosing foods that taste good and boost their health by incorporating plant-based foods into their diet,” said PBFA Senior Director of Retail Partnerships Julie Emmett. “As this industry surpasses the $7 billion threshold, PBFA is excited to continue our work to help build a sustainable infrastructure, including domestic ingredients sourcing, for this growing demand to expand access to plant-based foods.”
Many drivers are leading to rising demand for dairy alternatives, including the avoidance of dairy allergens; desire for clean label products; compatibility with vegetarian, vegan and flexitarian lifestyles; and concerns about sustainability and animal welfare. Whether derived from nuts, grains, legumes or other sources, dairy alternatives present formulation challenges, but improvements in plant-protein formulation options, coupled with greater expertise, offer product developers the opportunity to capitalize on consumer interest in dairy alternative products. Check out FBI’s Formulating for Success in the Dairy Alternative Aisle – digital magazine to learn how brands also are entering the market with innovative plant-based alternatives.