Retail sales of plant-based alternatives to animal products surged by 27 percent to $7 billion in 2020, according to new data compiled by SPINS on behalf of trade group Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) and advocacy nonprofit The Good Food Institute (GFI). In 2020, the plant-based food market grew twice as fast as the overall retail food market, which increased by 15 percent last year. Additionally, dollar sales of plant-based foods grew by more than 25 percent in every US Census region. When it comes to household penetration, 57 percent of Americans now purchase plant-based alternatives to animal products, which is up from 53 percent in 2019.

According to PBFA and GFI, the data shows that COVID-19 has pushed many Americans to consume fewer animal products and explore plant-based alternatives, a shift that is only going to increase in the years to come. “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,” PBFA Senior Director of Retail Partnerships Julie Emmett said. “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.”

Plant-based milk is gaining on dairy 

SPINS also found that sales in both the vegan meat and vegan milk categories grew twice as fast as conventional meat and animal milk in 2020. The dollar sales of plant-based milk grew by 20 percent and reached $2.5 billion last year. Plant-based milk now accounts for more than a third (35 percent) of the plant-based food market and was purchased by 39 percent of American households last year. The plant-based dairy category as a whole is gaining market share with plant-based milk accounting for 15 percent of all milk sales, dairy-free butter sales constituting seven percent of the butter category, and plant-based creamer sales making up six percent of the creamer category. 

While milk is the largest plant-based category—dominated by almond milk and followed by fast-growing oat milk—the plant-based meat market is not too far behind hitting $1.4 billion in 2020, with sales growing 45 percent (up from $962 million in 2019). Plant-based meat now accounts for 2.7 percent of retail packaged meat sales and 18 percent of US households have purchased plant-based meat in 2020 (as compared to 14 percent in 2019). Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of shoppers are high-repeat customers. According to SPINS, plant-based meat placement in-store matters with refrigerated plant-based meat sales (which are increasingly stocked in the meat aisle) increasing more than twice as fast as frozen plant-based meat sales, which grew 30 percent in 2020 (10 times faster than in 2019).  

“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,” GFI Research Analyst Kyle Gaan said. “Almost 40 percent of households now have plant-based milk in their fridge, and at this rate, it won’t be long until we see just as many households purchasing plant-based meat.”

The plant-based food industry is booming 

SPINS found that other plant-based alternatives to animal products also had a stellar year as Americans locked down during COVID-19. In 2020, dollar sales of plant-based yogurt grew by 20 percent, which is nearly seven times the rate of conventional yogurt; plant-based cheese grew by 42 percent, nearly twice the rate of conventional cheese; and plant-based eggs grew by 168 percent, nearly 10 times the rate of conventional eggs. Since 2018, the plant-based egg category grew by more than 700 percent, a whopping 100 times the rate of conventional eggs. And companies are responding to the consumer shift away from animal products as evidenced by a 116 percent increase in plant-based claims on packaging among US food and drink products between 2018 and 2020.

“The plant-based category has evolved to the point that retailers can’t limit who they consider the plant-based shopper,” SPINS Head of Retail Dawn Valandingham said. “They should now assume everyone is a potential plant-based buyer and educate them enough to see the possibilities. Between the innovation in plant-based products and the gradual return to less restrictive shopping measures, 2021 offers many opportunities for retailers to appeal to more customers and expand their plant-based offerings.”

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