Food Security

Plant-based grocery sales outpace total food sales by 3 times in US, study finds

Apples in a Swedish supermarket.

Plant-based alternatives are proving more popular than many conventional products. Image: Unsplash/Philip Myrtorp

Paige Bennett
Writer, EcoWatch
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Food Security

  • The plant-based food market reached $7.4 billion last year as sales increased by 6.2% from record levels in 2020, a new study shows.
  • The most popular plant-based category was milk, with 42% of U.S. households buying it in 2021.
  • Conventional food markets like cheese have seen a decline in sales, while the meat market has faced supply chain issues and price hikes.
  • Consumers are increasingly turning to plant-based foods because of concerns about the planet and personal health .

A new study from The Good Food Institute (GFI), the Plant-Based Foods Association (PBFA) and SPINS, a wellness-focused data technology organization, has found that at U.S. grocery stores, plant-based food sales were three times higher than total food sales in 2021.

According to the report, plant-based food sales increased 6.2% compared to previously record-high sales in 2020, and the plant-based food market reached $7.4 billion last year. For many categories, plant-based products were more popular than conventional counterparts made with dairy or meat.

“Meanwhile, the conventional protein market has been rocked by supply chain disruptions and escalating inflation,” the report said. “Conventional meat dollar sales grew three times faster than its unit sales over the past three years, indicating that the apparent growth is driven solely by price hikes.”

GFI noted that the largest plant-based category is milk, and 42% of U.S. households purchased plant-based milk in 2021. Plant-based milks have been popular in recent years with a dollar sales growth from 4% to 33% over the past three years. In 2021, dairy milk sales declined by 2% in comparison.

Almond milk remains the top choice, making up 59% of all plant-based milk sales. Oat milk has seen rapid growth though and is up to 17% of plant-based milk sales as of last year. In 2017, oat milk sales made up only 0.5% of the category in 2018.

Other dairy-free products, such as ice creams, yogurts, creamers and cheeses, also saw growth over the past year, while many conventional products, such as cheese, actually declined in 2021.

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Meat alternatives are an interesting case study in their own right. Although the plant-based meat category matched its 2021 sales to its 2020 sales, plant-based meat unit sales outpaced conventional meat unit sales six times in the past three years. Plant-based burgers lead the category with the most sales, but chicken alternatives and other options like deli slices and meatballs have seen the most growth in the past year.

“The sustained rise in the market share of plant-based foods is remarkable, and makes it clear 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 have a positive impact on personal and planetary health,” said Julie Emmett, PBFA senior director of marketplace development. “The potential impact of these initiatives extends far beyond the store shelf: By taking consumer concerns to heart, the industry is actively embracing its role as a key driver of change that moves us closer to a secure and sustainable food system.”

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Related topics:
Food SecurityAgriculture, Food and Beverage
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