Nielsen: Cauliflower and plant-based proteins fill Super Bowl Sunday grocery baskets

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Football fans are still reaching for chicken wings on Super Bowl Sunday, but plant-based options are becoming popular party food options as well. ©GettyImages / arinahabich
Football fans are still reaching for chicken wings on Super Bowl Sunday, but plant-based options are becoming popular party food options as well. ©GettyImages / arinahabich

Related tags Super bowl Nielsen cauliflower

While chicken wings remain the most purchased food item leading up to Super Bowl with sales of $1.6bn*, more US consumers are adding plant-based protein alternatives and stealth veggies to their game day spread, according to Nielsen.

“Some Super Bowl staples will last forever: count beer, wings, and chips among them. But it’s a much more crowded space than it used to be, and marketers need to take note,”​ said Nielsen.

Swappable veggies and plant-based proteins

On a day-to-day basis, 39% of Americans say they are skipping meat protein and actively trying to include more plant-based foods in their diets, even during celebrations and social gatherings such as the Super Bowl.

However, instead of seeing more platters of cut up veggies and salads, US consumers want their plant-based dishes to be as ‘craveworthy’​ as its animal and starchy counterparts (e.g. steaks, chicken, pizza crust, rice).

One vegetable to lead this charge is cauliflower, which has steadily increased in purchases year over year, according to Nielsen, due to Americans’ growing familiarity with how to use the vegetable in place of animal proteins and starches.

CPG manufacturers are also showing off the versatility of cauliflower in a variety of salty snacks, frozen food, and quick meal branded products.

“As consumers take cues from restaurants making fried cauliflower dishes, cauliflower purchases across the store increased 19% year-over-year,”​ Nielsen noted.

In addition, Americans are no longer choosing meat as their primary source of protein, instead turning to plant-based alternatives to fill that gap with 38% of American consumers associating plant-based protein with positive health effects, and 17% believing plant-based protein offers superior nutritional value compared to animal protein, Nielsen found.

Adding to that, more than one-third of US households say they follow a protein-focused diet such as Paleo and high protein/low-carb.

Growing popularity in plant-based protein alternatives is especially apparent in the prepared foods section of many grocery stores where US shoppers are being introduced to new forms of plant-based alternatives prepped and ready for consumption. In the prepared food category, jackfruit (a fibrous fruit used in savory and sweet applications) registered just over $220,000, representing a year over year growth rate of 377% between 2016 and 2017.

However, Americans are still treating Super Bowl Sunday as a way to indulge, added Nielsen, who anticipated cheese sales to demonstrate strong sales growth this year, as they did in 2018.

“For all their health-conscious habits, Americans can’t stay away from cheese. Cheese doubled in online sales alone (from $442,230 on game day in 2017 to $894,505 on Super Bowl Sunday in 2018), demonstrating that everything is on the table for the hungry omnichannel shopper,” ​Nielsen said.

Lasting Super Bowl food favorites

Despite a growing trend towards serving plant-based dishes, chicken wings remain a dominant staple of Super Bowl Sunday with some slight changes, Nielsen added.

“Frozen, fully cooked chicken wings still have a massive following, but with dollar sales down 7.9% year over year, consumers are signaling they want fresh, be it ones they cook or cooked for them,” ​said Nielsen.

The deli counter is a popular go-to spot for fully cooked chicken wings (sales up 15% to $650m for the 52 weeks ending Jan. 5, 2019).Fresh meat wings have also grown drastically with sales up 31.4% in the past year.

Online wing sales are expected have another strong year in sales as it did last year, growing 45% from nearly $8m in 2017 to $11.6m in 2018 in the seven days leading up to the Super Bowl, reported Nielsen.

*Nielsen Total U.S. xAOC, 52 weeks ended Jan. 5, 2019.

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