—Plant-based foods is a small but evolving category in retail and foodservice markets
Chicago, February 2, 2023 — The recent buzz about plant-based foods at retail and foodservice has many questioning if interest in plant-based foods is a fad or a long-term trend. Plant-based is a small but expanding category, and as more innovations and products become available and accessible, consumer interest broadens. According to The NPD Group*, about 25 million consumers eat plant-based beverages and foods occasionally or regularly, consuming these foods as part of a meal or as an ingredient. About one in five consumers say that they want more plant-based foods in their diet.
When it comes to eating plant-based foods, consumers are definite in which types of plant-based beverages and food they want to eat at home and which they eat from a restaurant or foodservice outlet. Although drinking dairy milk at home is still a more prominent behavior, about 93% of meals or snacks that include milk alternatives are consumed at home, and 7% are at/from a restaurant or foodservice outlet. Consumers eat more plant-based meat, poultry, and seafood analogues from restaurants because these foods are prepared in the same way animal protein menu items are, which means the consumer isn’t sacrificing taste for what they believe to be a healthier option.
At retail, the total volume sales of milk alternatives were down 3% in the 52 weeks ending January 1, 2023, compared to a year ago, according to IRI. Almond and coconut milk alternatives were among the top declining products. Oat milk alternatives offset steeper declines for the total category, with volume sales up 22% versus a year ago. Volume sales of meat alternatives in the frozen aisle were down 3% from a year ago, with lunchmeat, meatball, and breakfast sausage alternatives the top decliners. Frozen meat alternative formats growing were wings, ingredient cuts, and nuggets. Fresh meat alternatives were down 15% compared to the prior year; breakfast sausage, meatball, and patty alternatives were the top declining categories. The growth formats in the fresh retail case during the period were wings, ingredient cuts, and nugget alternatives.
“Retail is likely in a transition period, following fast expansion before and during the pandemic. As consumers are returning to their pre-pandemic habits and living with high inflationary prices, we are seeing slower velocity rates and a higher number of lost buyers than new buyers,” Chris Dubois, executive vice president, Americas Protein Practice Leader, IRI. “As long as the big plant-based companies continue to deliver taste, texture, and innovations while working toward price parity with other protein options, the category can thrive, especially in the frozen case where the strength and base are consistent.”
In foodservice, plant-based foods represent less than 1% of all foods shipped through broadline foodservice distribution to commercial and non-commercial foodservice outlets, with many categories growing. Plant-based meat analogues have expanded from primarily beef alternatives to poultry, seafood, and pork. Pound sales of chicken and fish analogues shipped from broadline foodservice distributors increased by 38% and 5%, respectively, in the 12 months ending December compared to a year ago. Grain alternative pizza crusts, like cauliflower crust, grew broadline foodservice pound sales by 35% in 2022 compared to a year ago.
“Chefs and foodservice operators see the plant-based protein category as a versatile option to serve a greater diversity of guests,” says Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage industry analyst. “Plant-based provides the options to create center-of-plate recipes that delight guests and bring them back for more.”
NPD forecasts dairy and meat alternatives to grow through 2024, driven almost entirely by Millennials and Gen Zs, who choose these products because of their interest in sustainability, animal welfare, and better health. The deep-rooted values of Gen Zs and Millennials behind their choice of plant-based foods enabled the category to continue to grow throughout the pandemic. These plant-based consumers look for various meat, poultry, or seafood analogues, flavor profiles, and formats.
“Plant-based beverages and foods are growing and gaining loyalty,” says Seifer. “These products still represent a small share in the categories in which they compete but give consumers and foodservice operators more options to consider.”