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Retail Sales of Plant-Based Foods Surged to $7 Billion in 2020

Retail Sales of Plant-Based Foods Surged to $7 Billion in 2020

Oatly has helped pushed oat milk into second place for most purchased plant-based milk, with almond milk leading the segment.

New data from the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) and The Good Food Institute (GFI) shows that the retail sales of plant-based foods in the US grew by 27 percent in 2020, bringing its total market value to $7 billion. The plant-based food market grew nearly twice as fast as the total US food retail market, and the sales increase was consistent across the country.

While the notable increase in sales can be partially attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, the data also revealed that plant-based meat, dairy and eggs outpaced the sales of their animal counterparts for the third year in a row. However, the pandemic certainly played a part in raising awareness of food safety, nutrition and food supply chain vulnerability.

The PBFA and GFI data were commissioned by SPINS, a wellness-centered data insights provider, and custom refined to reflect plant-based products that directly replace animal products. The data includes results from a consumer panel of roughly 100,000 households.

Why Are Retail Sales of Plant-Based Foods Up?

The data showed that 57 percent of US households now purchase plant-based foods, up from 53 percent in 2019. So what are the reasons for choosing plant-based over animal-based? For starters, COVID-19 gave retail sales of plant-based foods a boost when there was already prior interest in the sector. This focus was driven by a number of factors, including:

  • Personal health
  • Taste and dietary variety
  • Sustainability
  • Food safety
  • Animal welfare

The environmental and ethical motivations ranked lower overall, but higher among younger demographics. Other reasons consumers turned to plant-based foods included lowering meat intake and managing cholesterol.

Related: Leading Countries in Plant-Based Meat and Dairy Innovations

“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 Julie Emmett, PBFA’s senior director of retail partnerships, in a press release.

Plant-Based Milk Sales

Plant-based milk continues to be the largest plant-based category, accounting for 35 percent of the sector and reaching $2.5 of the $7 billion market. Even though plant-based milk is the most developed category, it still grew 20 percent in dollar sales, up five percent from 2019.  Nearly 40 percent of US households purchase plant-based milk, with its sales growing twice as fast as cow’s milk.

Breaking down the category further, almond milk remains the leader and represents about two-thirds of plant-based milk sales. Oat milk shot up to second place, outpacing soy milk, with sales more than tripling last year. Oat milk has also found success in foodservice channels, with a notable example being Oatly’s partnership with Starbucks.

Plant-Based Meat Sales

Plant-based meat is the second-largest category in the plant-based market, accounting for $1.4 billion in sales in 2020. Increasing 45 percent from 2019, plant-based meat sales grew twice as fast as conventional meat in 2020. Eighteen percent of US households purchase plant-based meat, up four percent from the previous year.

As many as 63 percent of new plant-based meat buyers are considered repeat customers, aligning with previous survey data suggesting that as many as 92 percent of first-time plant-based meat buyers plan on purchasing again, even post-pandemic. The growth can also be attributed to the placement of plant-based meat in the meat section, with refrigerated plant-based meat sales growing twice as fast as their frozen counterparts.

Kyle Gaan, a research analyst at GFI said in the same press release, “2020 was a breakout year for plant-based foods across the store. The incredible growth we saw in plant-based foods overall, particularly plant-based meat, surpassed our expectations and is a clear sign of where consumer appetites are heading.”