An estimated 1.6 million American households have purchased plant-based products, according to a report from Kroger supermarkets, and the trend of trying plant-based food and drink is not going away. Despite this growing interest, recent articles in Bloomberg and The New York Times have written about Beyond Meat's stock price woes, and questioned whether plant-based meat sales have declined due to price, poor management or lack of enthusiasm for the taste of these highly-processed products.

Newly-released research reveals that the plant-based food industry is still healthy and 65 percent of Americans have tried plant-based products as an alternative to meat and dairy. It should be noted that the report's data is from 2019 to 2021 and does not reflect the most recent economic landscape and the high cost of food due to steep inflation.

Kroger just released its latest research on consumer preferences, which showed a willingness of  American shoppers to try out new plant-based food. The report was designed to find out if shoppers are replacing animal products with plant-based alternatives or simply buying more food in general. It turns out, customers are actually hungry for plant-based products as replacements for red meat and especially dairy.

The Plant-Based Foods Migration Analysis Report analyzed shopping behavior data from eight million households during a two-phase period between 2019 and 2021. Kroger compiled this report with the help of the Plant Based Foods Institute and data insight company 84.51º.

“The research was conducted as part of Kroger’s long-term strategy predicated on listening to their customers,” Holly Adrien, natural and organics strategy and innovation manager at Kroger, said in a statement. “Kroger is committed to learning from consumers and creating the optimal merchandising strategy for plant-based foods to best meet the needs of shoppers.”

Interest in Plant-Based Eating Soars

This new study builds on Kroger's previous data that showed that sales of plant-based meats had increased by 23 percent. With this research, the major grocery retailer sought to understand how shoppers were altering their grocery lists to introduce more plant-based food items. To conduct the study, Kroger split its analysis into five categories including milk, frozen meals, refrigerated and frozen meats, yogurt, and cheese.

Following two years of research, Kroger divided the shoppers into New, Increasing, Maintaining, Decreasing, and Leaving categories in relation to their plant-based food purchases. The study found that 20 percent of the eight million observed households fit in the New category, signaling that plant-based food interest has increased significantly since 2019.

“We must remove barriers for consumers by understanding shopper dynamics and taking an evidence-based look to ensure shoppers can easily find their products of choice,” Julie Emmett, senior director of marketplace development for PBFI, said. “We appreciate our long-standing collaboration with Kroger and its willingness to share these results on behalf of the industry.”

The study also noted that from 2019 to 2020, households purchased plant-based foods at much higher rates due to "panic buying" and increased worries about health and sustainability. The report shows that refrigerated plant-based meat saw a maximum growth of 200 percent. This also saw 63 percent of New households purchasing plant-based meat and 40 percent purchasing dairy-free cheese.

Ditching Meat to Save Money

As panic buying slowed down and regular grocery visits returned, Kroger observed how shoppers readjusted their grocery purchases in Year Two. From 2020 to 2021, Kroger found that households buying plant-based foods decreased their spending on animal products, suggesting that shoppers started introducing plant-based proteins to actively replace animal products.

“One of the ways we can measure the impact of plant-based foods is to understand the displacement of animal-based foods in favor of plant-based foods through comprehensive research,” Emmett said in a statement.

The study shows that these shoppers decreased their average animal-derived meat purchases by $31 on average year over year. Kroger also noted that the Maintaining group, which did not purchase more plant-based products, decreased their spending on animal-derived foods by $28.21.

The study showed that plant-based sales increased a record-breaking 24.1 percent in 2020, and after a predicted slowdown, plant-based product purchases still increased by 1.5 percent in 2021. Refrigerated meat and plant-based milk sales became the most popular in New households from 2019 to 2021.

Households categorized Leaving –– shoppers spending less on plant-based foods –– cut meat and dairy spending by $60.48, compared to their average $41.71 decrease in plant-based product purchases.

One recent study found that vegans and vegetarians save an average of $23 in comparison with their meat-eating counterparts during weekly grocery shopping, and with increased grocery prices, consumers are searching for ways to save money.

Overall, 84.51º claims that these findings show that households eating more plant-based food are actively replacing meat and dairy products with alternatives. Even though brands such as Beyond Meat have reported smaller earnings in recent months, a report from The Washington Post shows that this could be linked to increasing competition, noting that there are more than 60 plant-based meat companies fighting for market share.

“This research is a continuation of our years-long collaboration with PBFA using 84.51°’s robust data science to analyze plant-based food sales and the plant-based shopper to gain a holistic view of this market,” Catherine Cowan, insights account manager at 84.51°, said in a statement. “We look forward to using these findings as a benchmark to understand future growth of the category.”

Why Shoppers Are Going Plant-Based

To further understand why shopping trends are changing, Kroger surveyed 150 shoppers in the Increasing and Decreasing groups. For households increasing plant-based purchases, 43 percent are replacing animal products with dairy-free milk, 30 percent chose vegan meats and meals, and 20 percent purchased plant-based cheese or yogurt.

Kroger also found that 95 percent of respondents claimed to want to further increase their plant-based purchases. The poll found that 54 percent of customers were motivated by personal health issues and 49 percent felt driven by potential health benefits.

But what about the Decreasing households? Kroger found out that 64 percent of shoppers would feel motivated to reconsider their lower purchasing habits for a lower price, whereas 58 percent said an improved taste would bring them back. Kroger also noted that 61 percent would feel more inclined to purchase plant-based foods with brand promotions and 21 percent want recipes attached to these products.

For more plant-based happenings, visit The Beet's News articles. 

31 Delicious, Plant-Based Recipes to Make on Repeat

Want fresh ideas for meals that are healthy, plant-based, and delicious? This free newsletter is for you. Sign up to get a recipe of the day delivered to your inbox every morning.

More From The Beet