The plant-based food market continues to grow and has outpaced sales of other food categories in recent years. The Good Food Institute (GFI) released a report that sales of plant-based food hit $7.4 billion this year, growing by 54 percent since 2018 while the total food market only increased sales by 2 percent over the same period.

The continued growth of the plant-based food market put to rest any worry that this area is experiencing a slowdown post-pandemic or that the demand for meat alternatives and dairy-free milk, cheese, and creamers was a fad. In contrast, general food sales remained stagnant since 2018. The report details that the plant-based market has far-surpassed the growth rates of the worldwide food market as a whole.

Plant-based meat, non-dairy milk and egg alternatives

For 2021, the GFI report analyzes the specific growth rates of plant-based product categories including meat, milk, and egg alternatives. The research found that plant-based eggs ranked as the fastest-growing vegan food category, growing 42 percent. Plant-based eggs were followed closely by creamers and ready-to-drink beverages, which grew by 33 percent and 22 percent, respectively. GFI also pointed out that animal-based eggs slowed by four percent and dairy creamers experience no market shift.

“Product innovation is critical for plant-based categories to continue to earn a larger share of the market,” Research and Analysis Manager at GFI Karen Formanski said in a statement. “Getting more consumers to eat plant-based foods more often requires improved taste and texture to compete with animal products, more product diversity, and greater affordability and accessibility.

“As businesses recognize the staying power of plant-based foods, the food industry must seize these opportunities to maximize the vast potential of plant-based alternatives to compete with animal products.”

The report also narrowed in on plant-based milk sales, highlighting that dairy milk alternatives accounted for 16 percent of all retail milk sales. The plant-based milk dollar sales have grown to reach $2.6 billion, growing 33 percent in the past three years. Regular milk sales declined 2 percent in 2021. Within the plant-based milk industry, oat milk has grown 44 times since 2018, accounting for 17 percent of plant-based milk sales.

“The sustained rise in the market share of plant-based foods is remarkable, and makes it clear that this shift is here to stay,” PBFA Senior Director of Marketplace Development Julie Emmett said. “More and more consumers are turning to plant-based options that align with their values and desire to have a positive impact on personal and planetary health.”

Sustainability is driving younger consumers to buy plant-based

The GFI report explains that sixty-two percent of U.S. households – or 79 million households – now regularly purchase plant-based products, increasing from 61 percent (77 million) in 2020. Driven by increased accessibility and ethical motivators, the plant-based industry is expected to continue increasing. As more consumers search for plant-based foods, eCommerce sales have increased 47 percent since 2020, reaching $351 million.

The data shows that, despite the challenges of the past two years, retailers and foodservice providers are meeting consumers where they are by partnering with brands across the entire store to expand space, increase assortment, and make it easier than ever to find and purchase plant-based foods. The potential impact of these initiatives extends far beyond the store shelf,” Emmett said. “By taking consumer concerns to heart, the industry is actively embracing its role as a key driver of change that moves us closer to a secure and sustainable food system.”

The increase in plant-based purchases can be largely attributed to younger consumers. Both Gen-Z and Millennial consumers lean towards environmentally and ethically beneficial purchases, condemning animal agriculture and animal testing. Now, younger generations also prioritize healthier foods. With the extraordinary levels of plant-based interest, brands and industries have shifted production models to deliver on social and environmental responsibility motivators. One report found that over 50 percent of consumers claim that sustainability matters when grocery shopping.

The future of plant-based sales

Since 2018, plant-based meat and seafood sales have grown to exceed $1.4 billion, up by 74 percent. The growth rate outpaces that of conventional animal meat by three times. The report notes that the plant-based meat market has experienced some unexpected volatility over the last couple of years, but expects the industry to even out and healthily increase sales.

Last year, Bloomberg Intelligence released a report that revealed that the plant-based market is expected to exceed $162 billion within the next decade, a 451 percent increase from its current valuation.

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