Unlike ten years ago, there's nothing niche about eating plant-based anymore: Nearly 9.7 million Americans define themselves as vegan and millions more identify as climatarians, vegetarians, and flexitarians. There is no doubt that plant-based foods are now mainstream, and new research from the Plant Based Products Council (PBPC) indicates that plant-based consumer interest is higher than ever. The report details that 89 percent of consumers are somewhat, very, or extremely likely to support a company that produces and/or uses products made from plants.

Whether motivated by health, environment, or ethics, the plant-based market is seeing unprecedented interest. The second annual consumer survey analyzed 1,054 American adults nationwide to determine how people feel about new products that prioritize plant-based and sustainable ingredients. While the percentage of vegans in the total population remains marginal, the overall acceptance of plant-based eating is rapidly spreading across the American public.

“We’re excited by the results of this year’s consumer research study, as it underscores the public’s desire for increased innovation and expansion of plant-based products,” Executive Director of the Plant Based Products Council Jessica Bowman said. “PBPC and our members are eager to educate consumers on the many benefits of plant-based products as we work with business, science, and government stakeholders to guide the U.S. toward a more sustainable and responsible economy.”

The report reveals 57 percent of consumers have already started incorporating plant-based products into their lives at least once a week. The figure spiked four percent since 2020, signifying plant-based interest is growing alongside market growth. Recent reports predict that the plant-based market will reach $162 billion by 2030, rising 451 percent.

The PBPC also found that more than 2 in 3 participants claimed that they sometimes, frequently, or always think about plant-based products when making purchasing decisions, eating at restaurants, purchasing clothes, shopping, and even while ordering takeout or delivery. This high level of interest has inspired companies across several sectors including food, cosmetics, clothing, and more to begin developing more plant-based items.

Sustainability on the mind

Alongside the PBPC, Cargill – one of North America’s largest meat producers – conducted a survey to better understand sustainability and modern eating habits. The survey concluded that nearly 55 percent of people claim that they would be more likely to purchase food that includes a sustainability promise. Companies including the meat giant have noticed the shift in consumer interest and started to accelerate plant-based investments and production.

“Our latest findings clearly demonstrate that messages surrounding sustainability are having an impact on consumers,” Managing Director of Strategy and Innovation for Cargill’s Global Edible Oils business Nese Tagma said. “Insights like these help guide our consumer-focused approach to innovation, enabling us to partner with customers to co-create new products and solutions that reflect current consumer trends and ingredient preferences.”

Another food giant Unilever recently announced a general shift towards plant-based or plant-forward food production. Unilever – the parent company of Hellmann’s Dove, Ben & Jerry’s, and nearly 400 household brands – issued a report which ranked plant-based eating as the most health-conscious diet option. With food giants confirming the benefits of plant-based foods worldwide, food production and consumer behavior will likely move with it.

A generation of plant-based

Plant-based eating and shopping are also rising due to younger generations. One study found that 65 percent of Gen-Z consumers claim they want a more plant-forward diet. Even more impressively, the study found that 79 percent of Gen-Z consumers go meatless at least once or twice a week. Detailing concerns about sustainability, the climate crisis, and animal cruelty, younger generations have shown an increased interest in planet-friendly foods.

Gen-Z is not alone in the plant-based market: Another survey conducted by Sprouts Farmers Market found that 54 percent of millennials are eating more plant-based as flexitarians. Citing the COVID-19 pandemic and rapidly worsening climate crisis, both Millennials and Gen-Z consumers are gravitating towards eco-friendly options. In stark contrast to the harmful animal agriculture industry, younger shoppers have plant-based foods and products on their minds.

6 Best Dairy-Free Protein Shakes

When you skipped lunch to get to boot-camp class and now have to race back to the office without eating, it's good to have a couple of options for refueling on the go. So we taste-tested the best plant-based shakes, each one with about 15 grams or more of plant-based protein and fewer carbs, sugars and artificial flavorings.

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