Plant-based food is derived from only or primarily plant material. It can be in the original plant form, such as vegetables or whole grains, or be processed, such as plant-based milk, plant-based meat, plant-based eggs. This also means that a plant-based diet is not necessarily a vegan diet.
Plant-based food companies are already popular among American consumers today. Favorites such as market leaders Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, plus niche offerings such as Hain Celestial, VeggieLand, Nature’s Soy and Amy’ s Kitchen produce some of the world’s most popular plant-based foods.
Incredible Growth for Plant-Based Food
Until recently, the plant-based food market was considered just a niche offering within the wider food industry, like many other new offerings. Of recent, the plant-based food industry has been showing great improvement in its sales record.
For the year ending June 16, 2018, alone, plant-based foods were found to rake in total sales of about $3.3 billion, according to a study by the Plant-Based Foods Association that was done by retail data analyst Nielsen. That’s a 20% uptick from a similar period in 2017.
In correlation with the general food industry, whose sales were found to be growing at a much slower pace of 2% during the same study period, the plant-based food industry is a growing force to be reckoned. That growth in sales also seemingly boosted other sectors of the plant-based food industry too, according to executives from the Plant-Based Foods Association, through new investments and an industry-wide job boom.
Fast-forward to 2019, and the results are just as positive. Plant-based foods continued to grow faster than the general food industry, with dollar sales of plant-based foods achieving a growth rate of 11% for the year ending April 16, 2019, according to data analyst SPINS. Total dollar sales of plant-based foods for the period clocked in at $4.5bn, resulting in a steady 31% increase in sales for the past two years.
The general food industry meanwhile has only seen its usual – and comparatively much lower – 2% increase in sales as more and more of its conventional products are outcompeted by new plant-based alternatives.
The new plant-based alternatives are seeing the most success in the milk, meat and ‘other dairy’ categories; nevertheless, smaller categories such as egg/mayo, tofu/tempeh, and meals have also seen upticks in sales.
For the year ending 2018, Nielsen’s study found plant-based milk alone to have seen over $1.6b in dollar sales, which translates to 9% growth from the previous data year. Plant-based meat, a relatively new offering, saw a 24% growth rate with sales of over $670m.
The other most popular category of plant-based foods, ‘other dairy’ – which includes favorites yogurt, ice cream, butter, creamer, dressings and cheese – saw a 50% uptick and total sales of $697m thanks to the increasing popularity of mainly plant-based yogurt and creamer, which saw $162m and $109m sales receipts respectively.
Both plant-based milk and meats are expected to grow even further. The SPINS retail report for the year ending April 2019 showed total sales of $1.8bn for plant-based milk alone, while plant-based meat saw receipts of $800m.
With such promising, nearly remarkable growth in the plant-based food industry in the United States, it’s important to mark who or what is driving the growth in the first place. The best growth driver has been American consumers, whose preference for plant-based foods only grows day after day. The motivations may differ, but healthy eating and increasing consciousness about it, especially among millennials, are both major driving forces.
According to Nielsen Homescan, not every American is going all-out for plant-based foods yet. Only 39% of Americans are regularly trying to add plant-based foods to their daily diets. Different consumer groups are behaving differently in that regard, but the most action is coming from America’s ethnic and age groupings.
African Americans, for example, were found to be 48% more likely to choose plant-based foods for their diet, compared with the average US consumer. Caucasian millennials only showed a 47% likelihood, while Hispanic consumers went even lower to 46%. Asian Americans, on the other hand, were found to be 47% more likely to add plant-based foods to their diets than the average American consumer.
This is all against the background of increasing American obsession with ‘healthy’ diets, some of which now incorporate plant-based foods. More and more people are signing up for diets in the United States, regardless of the final motive.
In 2016, Nielsen reported than 29% of Americans were following a specific diet. That number rose to 35% in 2017, and by July 2018, it was already 38%. With increased awareness about the nutritional benefits of plant-based foods, it’s no surprise that most of these diets have already incorporated them. Consecutively, more and more people are consuming plant-based food alternatives.
Stores are starting to feel the effect; a 2017 Nielsen report showed that 19.5% of all beverage and food sales came from purchases that were plant-based or met a plant-based diet. And as plant-based food alternatives continue to offer healthier, more diet-centric alternatives to conventional food products, the latter’s industry is starting to struggle.
Plant-based milk alternatives, such as almond milk, have become integral parts of many American diets that traditional milk (Including cow milk) is seeing a slump. Almond milk itself saw an 8.2% growth in sales within three years, according to Nielsen. Even plant-based meats are making a major show of beating traditional meats at checkout.
Ultimately, it’s all comes down to what the biggest drivers are. For now, experts say that increasing consciousness about health, as backed by increasing awareness among individuals, is the biggest driving force. The growing interest in ethics among Americans, especially on how animals are handled and treated is another factor.
Sustainability rounds out the top drivers for the growth of plant-based food demand; the understanding is that more and more consumers, especially millennials, are demanding increased sustainability among food producers and choosing plant-based foods because they are borne of more sustainable processes.