As scores of products from cereals to fresh produce are technically ‘plant-based,’ SPINS defines the category as covering products formulated as alternatives to animal-based foods and beverages, such as meat alternatives, non-dairy beverages, cheese alternatives, and tofu (meatless jerky, vegan mayo and other products are not included in the $4.9bn figure below).
Easily the biggest category within this $4.9bn market is refrigerated non-dairy beverages (eg. soy, almond/pecan/walnut/cashew, coconut, rice, pea, & hemp ‘milks’), which accounts for 67% of sales, followed by shelf-stable non-dairy beverages (17% of sales) and frozen meat-alternatives (10% of sales). Finally, refrigerated meat alternatives, cheese alternatives and tofu each account for around 2% of category sales.
In the 52 weeks to June 12:
- Tofu: +6.6%
- Cheese alternatives: +11%
- Refrigerated meat alternatives: +8%
- Frozen meat alternatives: +2.7%
- Shelf-stable non-dairy beverages: -1%
- Refrigerated non-dairy beverages: + 4.4%
While plant-based foods are growing in all channels, they are growing the fastest in the natural channel (+10.7% to $207m in the year to June 12), followed by the specialty channel (+7.5% to $90m) and the multi-outlet conventional channel ‘MULO’ (+3.4% to $4.6bn), said SPINS strategic alliance manager Kora Lazarski in a webinar on plant-based food trends last Wednesday.
While 3.4% growth might now sound like much, she said, “Compared to only 1.7% for the total market of groceries and beverages, that’s a pretty big difference.”
Within the non-dairy beverages category, declining sales of soy and rice milks have been offset by continued growth in almond milk, coconut milk and other dairy-free options from hemp to tigernuts, macademias, pecans and cashews, said Lazarski.
Within the meat alternatives category, refrigerated meatless nuggets, strips and cutlets notched up triple-digit growth in the natural channel in the year to June 12, while frozen meatless grounds were up 55% and frozen meatless meatballs were up 15%.
Meanwhile jackfruit and mushrooms are also gaining traction as meat analogs, while market researchers will all be watching the progress of Beyond Meat’s refrigerated Beyond Burgers – which sit in the meat cabinet – as they roll out across Whole Foods this year.
But not everything in the category is performing well, even in the natural channel, with frozen meatless loaves, refrigerated meatless meatballs and refrigerated meatless grounds/crumbles all failing to catch fire over the same period, said SPINS retail development manager Jeff Crumpton.
Drilling down into meatless meat types, alternatives to pork and beef performed the best in all retail channels, with turkey and chicken alternatives lagging behind.
In cheese alternatives, sales of which grew 30% in the year to June 12 in the natural channel, 27% in the specialty gourmet channel, and 2.8% YoY in the conventional channel, nut-based ‘cheeses’ are performing particularly strongly in all channels, while soy-based products (which have been steadily declining in the plant-based beverages category) are also growing robustly, said Crumpton.
Rice-based products – which grew 25% in the conventional channel, were down in specialty gourmet and natural channels, however.
Drilling down into dairy-free cheese types, cheddar, American, provolone, parmesan, gouda, chevre and Camembert all performed well, while feta, blue varieties, Mexican varieties and sweet cream cheese alternatives fared poorly.
And while the category is small (just under $100m), it has big potential, added Lazarski, citing Kite Hill's recent moves into almond-based-cheese-filled pastas and other products: “There is no shortage of activity here.”
Taste, animal welfare, sustainability, health…
Michele Simon, executive director of the new Plant Based Foods Association, said it was still early days for the plant-based category, but that the potential for growth was huge as consumers experimented with new meat, egg and dairy alternatives for taste, health, sustainability and animal welfare reasons.
However, there are some regulatory issues to address including developing consistent terminology around certain products (non-dairy cheese, cultured nut product, cheese, cheese alternative etc); encouraging federal programs allow more plant-based options (eg. school meals); and creating a more level playing field for plant vs animal based products, said Simon.
“Subsidies result in artificially low pricing of animal products compared to plant-based foods, creating a disadvantage in the marketplace for plant-based foods. We’re competing with entrenched and politically powerful meat, egg and dairy industries.”
Check out Liz Crawford's podcast series on plant-based opportunities, which features Michele Simon, Califia Farms' CEO Greg Steltenpohl, Bruce Friedrich from The Good Food Institute, and Eugene Wang, founder of vegan seafood company Sophie’s Kitchen: