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Plant-based food U.S. retail sales reach $7 billion

BY Kyle Gaan

The U.S. plant-based retail market grew at 27 percent over last year, almost two times greater than total retail food sales.

2020 was a year of strong and sustainable growth for plant-based foods. Newly released SPINS data commissioned by the Good Food Institute and the Plant-Based Foods Association (PBFA) shows that total plant-based retail sales reached $7 billion and grew 27 percent over the past year—almost two times faster than total U.S. retail food sales. Dollar sales of plant-based foods grew 43 percent from 2018 to 2020, compared to just 17 percent growth for total U.S. retail food dollar sales over the same time period.

This strong growth in retail sales is a welcome compliment to equally impressive growth in investment dollars in the plant-based space. A record $2.1 billion was invested in plant-based food companies in 2020, highlighting growing interest in plant-based foods from both consumers and investors.

The retail point-of-sale data was obtained over the 52-week and 104-week periods ending December 27, 2020, from the SPINS Natural Enhanced and Conventional Multi Outlet (powered by IRI) grocery channels. The data is based on custom-GFI plant-based categories that were created by refining standard SPINS categories. Due to the custom nature of these categories, the presented data will not align with standard SPINS categories.

Graph showing retail sales

Plant-based meat sales reach $1.4 billion in 2020

The plant-based meat category crossed the billion dollar mark in 2020, reaching $1.4 billion worth of sales by the end of the year. As in past years, much of this growth was driven by refrigerated plant-based meat, which is taking an increasingly larger share of the plant-based meat category.

While plant-based burgers maintained their status as the largest plant-based meat product format by dollar sales, plant-based grounds were the breakout product format. Plant-based ground sales more than doubled in size over the course of 2020, in part due to the introduction and increased distribution of those products in retail. Product formats like deli slices and bacon are still relatively small subcategories, highlighting potential for development and growth in these areas.

Plant-based milk, eggs, and dairy continue to experience strong growth

Plant-based milk maintained its status as the largest plant-based food category, with sales growing at 20 percent over the past year to reach $2.5 billion. Almond milk is still the largest plant-based milk type, but oat milk experienced massive growth over the past two years. Formerly a tiny segment of the plant-based milk market, oat milk is now the second largest plant-based milk subcategory. This increased interest in oat milk has carried over into other plant-based dairy categories, with numerous product launches of plant-based yogurts, ready-to-drink beverages, and creamers that use oat milk as a base.

Other plant-based dairy categories like plant-based ice cream and plant-based yogurt each grew at 20 percent over the course of 2020 to reach $435 million and $343 million, respectively. Additional high-growth dairy categories include plant-based butter and plant-based cheese, which grew at 36 percent and 42 percent, respectively. The relatively small plant-based eggs category grew 168 percent last year and an impressive 706 percent over the past two years.

“It’s been a year of rapid retail growth for plant-based foods.” said GFI corporate engagement project manager Emma Ignaszewksi. “This wave is clearly driven by several factors, including new product launches, expanded distribution, more food preparation at home, and—importantly—skyrocketing interest from consumers. Growing consumer demand will contribute to a virtuous new cycle of product innovation that will accelerate the shift to tasty, affordable plant-based meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products.”

Increases in household penetration driven by young, educated, and higher income consumers

In addition to point-of-sale data, GFI and PBFA also commissioned consumer panel data from SPINS. Household penetration across all plant-based food categories increased 3.4 percentage points to reach 56.8 percent in 2020, equivalent to almost 73 million U.S. households. Plant-based meat household penetration also increased by 3.4 percentage points to reach 17.6 percent, equal to almost 23 million U.S. households purchasing plant-based meat in 2020—a 24 percent increase from 2019.

Who’s driving this increased purchasing? Plant-based buyers tend to be younger, from higher income brackets, and have college or graduate degrees. They are also more likely to have children and be people of color. While all people of color over-indexed for plant-based purchasing, Asian consumers in particular had high interaction. These demographic trends hold in terms of dollar indexes as well, with consumers aged 35 to 44, consumers with graduate degrees, and consumers with income greater than $100,000 all having high levels of interaction.

Plant-based food is here to stay

A younger consumer base is a positive sign for the continued success of the plant-based food industry. As plant-based food prices drop over time and begin to reach price parity with animal-based products, we can expect consumers from lower income brackets to increase their purchasing of plant-based products as well. And even with the disruption caused by Covid-19, plant-based product growth consistently outperformed animal-based product growth.

Together, this data suggests that there is significant momentum behind and growth opportunity in the plant-based food industry. For more detail on the accelerated and sustainable growth of plant-based foods in 2020, check out GFI’s market data page.

About the data

To size the U.S. retail market for plant-based foods, GFI and the Plant Based Foods Association commissioned retail sales data from the market research firm SPINS. The firm built the dataset by first pulling in all products with the SPINS “plant-based positioned” product attribute and, SPINS “plant-based diet” product attribute, as well as any products from previously pulled product categories that were not coded with the plant-based positioned or plant-based diet product attributes. The dataset was further edited by removing any products that did not contain direct replacements for animal products (meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy). Inherently plant-based foods, such as chickpeas and kale, are not included. Due to the custom nature of these categories, the retail data presented in this report will not align with standard SPINS categories. SPINS obtained the data over the 52-week and 104-week periods ending December 27, 2020, from the SPINS Natural Enhanced and Conventional Multi Outlet (powered by IRI) grocery channels. SPINS defines these channels as follows:

Conventional Multi Outlet (MULO): More than 104,000 retail locations spanning grocery, drug, mass, dollar, military, and club.

Natural Enhanced: More than 1,800 full-format stores with $2 million+ in annual sales and 40 percent or more of UPC coded sales from natural/organic/specialty products.

This is generally considered the broadest available view of retail food sales, although not all retailers are represented. Some companies, such as Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, and Costco, do not report their scanner data to SPINS or IRI.

Note: Two additional plant-based categories—plant-based baked goods and cookies and plant-based protein liquids and powders—were added to this year’s plant-based food industry analysis compared to analysis released in previous years. These two additional categories represented $444 million, 6 percent of the total 2020 market size.

Consumer panel data

In order to better understand consumer purchasing dynamics and demographics, GFI and the Plant Based Foods Association also commissioned consumer panel data from SPINS. SPINS acquires its panel data through the National Consumer Panel, a Nielsen and IRI joint venture. NCP’s panel is composed of roughly 100,000 households, which are recruited and selected based on U.S. population statistics and demographic and geographic criteria. GFI purchased consumer panel data based on the same custom plant-based categories it created for its purchase of point-of-sale data. Each plant-based product line covered in the panel data was created at the UPC level, and each has an identical product composition as its corresponding plant-based category presented in the point-of-sale data that GFI and PBFA purchased from SPINS. Due to the custom nature of these categories, the panel data presented in this report will not align with standard SPINS categories. SPINS obtained the data over the 52-week ending December 27, 2020, and the 52-week period ending December 29, 2019, from all U.S. outlets.

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