Market and consumer research

More than 75 percent of consumers have tried plant-based meat or are willing to try it. GFI’s consumer research helps companies understand the many consumer groups interested in alternative proteins, prioritize product attributes, and develop messaging strategies to maximize alternative protein sales. Our market research provides overviews of the business and technological landscapes, identifies trends and white space opportunities, and captures data on market sizing and purchase dynamics. 

Consumer insights

GFI’s consumer insights cover consumer demographics, adoption, perceptions, attitudes, motivations, and barriers

GFI’s consumer insights identify and understand current and potential consumers for alternative proteins. With a mix of primary research and literature reviews, we cover demographics, adoption, perceptions, acceptance, motivations, and barriers. We also review category language and descriptors that drive purchase intent, as well as opportunities for future research.

GFI’s consumer research includes:

View our consumer insights to learn more about current and potential consumers of alternative proteins.

Retail market overview

Our insights into U.S. retail sales data for plant-based meat, egg, and dairy products include category-level data on market size, growth, and purchase dynamics

GFI’s summary of U.S. retail sales data details the growth of the plant-based industry:

  • Plant-based foods reached dollar sales of $7.4 billion in 2021, up six percent since 2020, and 54 percent since 2018.
  • After plant-based meat passed the billion-dollar mark for the first time in 2020, the category remained steady in 2021. Plant-based meat dollar sales have grown 74% since 2018 to $1.4 billion.
  • Plant-based milk is the most developed plant-based category, accounting for 16 percent of all dollar sales of retail milk, with 42 percent of U.S. households purchasing plant-based milk. 
  • Plant-based eggs is the smallest but fastest-growing category, with a 42 percent growth in dollar sales from 2020 to 2021. 

Note: This data is based on custom-GFI plant-based categories that were created by refining standard SPINS categories. Due to the custom nature of these categories, the presented data will not align with standard SPINS categories.

Foodservice market overview

Foodservice sales data suggests that plant-based food continues to attract new consumers and drive foodservice growth

We worked with market research firm NPD to provide a data-driven look at plant-based meat’s sales performance in foodservice:

  • For the segment of the foodservice market covered, dollar sales of plant-based menu items grew by 37 percent from 2018 to 2019.
  • Grubhub reported that vegetarian- and vegan-friendly dishes represented seven of the top 10 most ordered dishes in 2019, up from three in 2018. 
  • As the foodservice sector rebuilds from the pandemic, plant-based foods continue to be important for increasing check sizes and appealing to young, digitally fluent consumers. These consumers are more likely to use delivery services, which are currently a major source of foodservice sales. 

For more insights on the foodservice market, view our Plant-Based Foodservice Market Overview webinar, and read our blog post on how plant-based companies can adapt their foodservice strategy during the pandemic. 

The international market

International market research

Alternative proteins are booming all over the world. GFI teams up with partner organizations like ProVeg as well as GFI international affiliate offices in Brazil, India, Israel, Europe, China, and Asia-Pacific to support the global alternative protein industry. 

Our international market research identifies alternative protein opportunities across the globe:

Sign up for our monthly newsletter for the latest international market analysis and research. 

Join the international plant-based market webinar series

Our international plant-based market webinar series dives deep into the plant-based market in different regions. These cover high-level market data, the business landscape, and consumer insights. 

Watch our European Plant-Based Market Overview and Brazilian Plant-Based Market Overview.

Business and technological landscape

Business and technological landscape

The business landscape for alternative proteins is thriving—as one milestone, nine of the ten largest meat companies in the United States had launched, bought, or collaborated on a plant-based meat brand by the end of 2019. Our flagship State of the Industry reports provide an in-depth overview of each alternative protein production platform: plant-based, cultivated, and fermentation. The reports cover the top companies in each sector, sales data, investment analysis, technological advancements, and the latest regulatory information. 

Our company database includes alternative protein brands, suppliers, ingredient companies, and manufacturers. Use the database to understand the competitive landscape and identify potential partners.

The U.S. retail market for plant-based foods, 2018-2021
The 2021 State of the Industry: Cultivated meat and seafood
The 2021 State of the Industry: Fermentation for alternative proteins
The 2021 State of the Industry: Plant-based meat, eggs, and dairy

Product innovation guidance

Pioneering innovators in the alternative protein sector have jump-started a virtuous cycle of product and technology innovation, customer acquisition, investment, and scaled production. Recent years have seen several scientists, entrepreneurs, and corporations developing innovative ingredients, paradigm-shifting technological advances in production, and leading-edge marketing strategies. 

Our guidance and resources help enable the food industry to deliver plant-based, cultivated, and other alternative protein products that compete on the key drivers of consumer choice: taste, price, and convenience. 

Taste, price, and convenience

Innovate on taste

Taste is a primary motivator for consuming plant-based foods—and, simultaneously, the main barrier to consumer adoption.

  • Seventy-three percent of consumers agree that plant-based meat should mimic the taste of meat. 
  • Forty-seven percent of consumers want more variety in plant-based meats.
  • Fifty-one percent of consumers want more variety in protein sources for plant-based meat.
Graph showing barriers to plant-based meat consumption
Source: Lightspeed/Mintel, Base: 1,630 internet users age 18+ who do not eat plant-based meat subsitutes.

Close the price gap

Across categories, plant-based products are priced at a premium compared to animal-based products. Consumers say price is second only to taste in importance as an attribute when considering purchasing plant-based meat.

  • Most consumers said they would pay less or the same for plant-based products compared to animal-based products.
  • Only 27 percent said they would consider paying more.

Convenience appeals to all

Increasing access to plant-based food in mainstream grocery stores and restaurants is resulting in adoption from the largest group of consumers — omnivores.

  • Seventy-six percent of consumers want to find plant-based meat in the meat aisle and frozen area where they already shop.
  • Millennials rank convenience more highly than other groups do, and care about the ease of cooking & preparation.

To increase adoption of plant-based meat, manufacturers should consider:

  • Creating delicious products that mimic the sensory qualities of animal products, including texture, smell, and taste.
  • Scaling up production and pursuing technical innovation so alternative protein products reach price parity with conventional meat.
  • Advocating for their products to be shelved in the meat aisle where most consumers seek out center-of-plate proteins.

For a deeper dive into the consumer insights that inform our recommendations, including product development, choice architecture, and consumer messaging, please check out our report on Strategies to Accelerate Consumer Adoption of Plant-Based Meat and visit our consumer insights.

Plant protein ingredients and processing

Our Plant Protein Primer is the go-to resource for understanding different plant-based protein sources. It includes an analysis of 19 plant protein sources with a summary comparing these sources on nutrition, functionality, price, flavor, and sourcing. For a quick glance, download the Plant Protein Landscape summary

View our Plant-Based Meat Manufacturing by Extrusion Guide for an overview of plant-based meat processing and directories of ingredients, pilot facilities, co-manufacturers, and related events. 

Scientific overview

Join the thousands of people who have signed up for GFI’s massive open online course on the science of plant-based and cultivated meat. The six-session self-paced course covers the biological and chemical processes used to produce plant-based and cultivated meat, the environmental and economic drivers behind these sectors, and the dietary roles of proteins. 

Visit GFI’s in-depth pages on the science of plant-based protein, cultivated meat, and fermentation for a deep dive into these production platforms. 

Technical resources

Homemade plant-based burger with sweet potato fries

Meat by the molecule: Making meat with plants and cells (The Biochemist)

This article from The Biochemist provides a high-level overview of plant-based and cultivated meat.

Clean meat production cover art

Analyzing cell culture medium costs

This white paper explains different routes to lowering the cost of cell culture medium and making cultivated meat economically viable.

Food technology cover image of an illustrated boat on water

Formulating with animal-free ingredients

GFI scientists explain how ingredients derived from plants and fermentation can be used to create animal-free meat, egg, and dairy alternatives.


Plant-based egg alternatives: Optimizing for functional properties and applications

Learn about considerations fo developing new plant-based egg alternatives and incorporating egg alternatives into a variety of food products.

Crashing waves from above

Action paper: An ocean of opportunity

This action paper explores alternative seafood’s role in creating a sustainable, secure, and just food system.

A school of fish swimming along a reef underwater

Sustainable Seafood Initiative

Learn how plant-based, fermentation-derived, and cultivated seafood can improve the health and sustainability of oceans.

Your market strategy

While the best go-to-market strategy will depend on the specific company and product, GFI’s resources provide a valuable overview of the distribution landscape: 

For tailored recommendations, please request a meeting with our Corporate Engagement experts. 

Close up of a grocery cart being pushed down an aisle

Selling into retail

GFI works directly with leading retailers to increase sales of plant-based foods by offering best practices on assortment, merchandising, and marketing. 

View our retail resource page to learn which retail strategies can increase sales of plant-based meat, eggs, and dairy and grow total store sales. 

The retail landscape

Our first-of-its-kind Retail Report evaluates the top 15 retailers according to plant-based assortment, merchandising, and marketing. It provides an overview of the retail landscape, including key sales statistics, case studies, and evidence-based practices for increasing plant-based retail food sales. 

View our webinar on Winning Plant-Based Strategies for Retail for key insights from our retail report, along with an insider perspective from a special guest from Whole Foods Market, one of the leading retailers for plant-based foods. 

Marketing plant-based foods

Our primary consumer research and literature reviews contain insights for labeling and marketing language that appeal to consumers and drive purchase intent:

Labeling guidance

A well-crafted product label can promote first-time purchases of plant-based products. Once consumers have tried plant-based products, they’re highly likely to buy them again. 

Evidence-based product labeling recommendations:

  • Use “plant-based” or “plant protein” as product descriptors.
  • On-product health labels should focus on positive health benefits like “high protein” or “high fiber” instead of restrictive language like “low fat.”
  • Develop positive messaging around the taste and sensory properties of plant-based meat. Use indulgent language that emphasizes product taste and the experience and enjoyment of eating. 
  • Highlight plant-based meat’s similarity to conventional meat in its ease and quickness of preparation. 
  • Message about altruistic benefits sparingly or only alongside appeals to traditional core drivers of food choice – taste, price, convenience, and familiarity.
  • Emphasize plant-based meat’s increasing acceptability and prevalence.
  • Design message content and framing with omnivores in mind.

For the rationale behind each of these tips, review the Strategies to Accelerate Consumer Adoption of Plant-Based Meat paper.

Food spread with plant-based feta cheese

Selling into foodservice

Selling a product into foodservice offers a number of benefits for plant-based manufacturers:

  • Guaranteeing your product is prepared in a standardized way before it reaches the consumer’s plate. 
  • Selling products at a premium.
  • Reaching consumers who may not try it otherwise.

A growing body of evidence suggests that alternative proteins are a key growth driver for restaurants, helping them attract new customers and raise check sizes. View our foodservice resources for market data, menu ideas, and strategies for launching successful plant-based items in restaurant and non-commercial foodservice channels. 

The foodservice landscape

More than half of the top 100 restaurants in the U.S. have launched or piloted a plant-based entrée. Restaurants have a strong competitive incentive to offer plant-based menu options: they eliminate “veto votes” in group dining situations, raise average check sizes, and bring in new customers. 

The Good Food Restaurant Scorecard ranks the top 100 restaurants in the United States on the breadth and depth of their plant-based options. A number of top restaurants have yet to launch a plant-based option, creating large opportunities for plant-based manufacturers to sell into foodservice. 

How to sell into foodservice

Here are three key tips for plant-based companies selling into foodservice:

Make foodservice sales sheets easily available on social media and your website

Emphasize the versatility of your products and show the applications and dishes they can be used for. Share data on how you can attract new customers, raise check averages, and/or lower costs. Include per-serving costs to make it easy for operators to calculate profitability.

Tasting and testing are believing

Do product training and tastings with your distributor sales teams and chefs. Also work with your operator prospects and partners on recipe development. Finally, partner with foodservice management companies and chef training groups like Forward Food to get your products in front of key decision makers.  

Make taste the primary message

Always emphasize flavor in your marketing and empower your foodservice partners to keep tastiness top-of-mind by providing image and descriptive assets they can repurpose. 

Marketing and menu design

Our foodservice toolkit includes evidence-based practices for marketing and promoting plant-based foods on menus. Key recommendations include:

Lead with flavor.

Use indulgent language to emphasize that your product will offer familiar, craveable experiences consumers want.

Embrace the health benefits of plant-based.

Health is a key driver of interest in plant-based proteins; use health-positive language that highlights benefits, not what’s missing. These messages appeal to the nutritional halo of plant-based foods. 

Position plant-based dishes to succeed with flexitarians.

List plant-based dishes alongside other items rather than in a separate vegan/vegetarian section where they won’t be seen. 

Label dishes as “plant-based” or “plant protein.” 

Favor more inclusive terms like “plant-based” or “plant-protein” over the terms “vegan” or “vegetarian” to appeal to more consumers and increase purchase intent. 

Make plant-based options the default. 

Make protein an optional add-on and include plant-based protein offerings. 

For more insights, please view the one-page guides:

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Engage with GFI

GFI’s work enables our food industry partners to develop and market plant-based, cultivated, and other alternative protein products. We work with consumer packaged goods companies, large food and meat companies, and alternative protein companies. GFI’s experts analyze the market, uncover consumer insights, identify whitespace opportunities, provide advice, make industry connections, and build communities. We do all this to enable the food industry to deliver alternative protein products that compete on the key drivers of consumer choice: taste, price, and convenience.

Specifically, we provide guidance to:

  • Entrepreneurs and startups seeking to bring their ideas to market and fast-track growth.
  • Manufacturers developing and bringing to market the next generation of alternative protein products.
  • Ingredient companies creating the next generation of alternative protein ingredients and optimizing raw materials, inputs, and functional additives.
  • Suppliers creating the next generation of ingredients and inputs, processing services, and other enabling technologies.
  • Equipment manufacturers developing and commercializing equipment optimized for alternative protein production at scale.

We can also work under NDA to offer input at critical milestones in product development and provide marketing guidance to maximize sales.

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Environmental, Social, and Governance framework

GFI & FAIRR’s ESG frameworks supply investors and companies in the alternative proteins industry with tools to monitor, measure, and report on risks and opportunities.

Resources for manufacturers

An image showing the report cover for “plant-based meat manufacturing capacity and pathways for expansion” photo credit: beyond meat

Plant-based meat manufacturing capacity and pathways for expansion

The analysis quantifies the existing global plant-based meat manufacturing landscape and evaluates pathways for expanding capacity to meet future demand.

Two workers in sterile clothing inside a food manufacturing facility

Plant-Based Meat Manufacturing Guide

Learn about plant-based meat manufacturing by extrusion and explore directories of ingredients, facilities, and co-manufacturers.

An assortment of beans in bowls on a white table, representing ingredients for plant-based meat

Plant Protein Primer

Find information on nutrition, functionality, price, sourcing, and consumer perceptions of plant protein sources for plant-based meat.

A photo of a scenic mountain and river

Alternative proteins life cycle assessment guide

This best practice guide provides a standardized approach to undertaking LCAs for alternative protein manufacturers.

Fermentation manufacturing capacity webinar header

Fermentation manufacturing capacity analysis

This analysis describes the existing fermentation-derived protein manufacturing landscape and strategies to effectively scale manufacturing capabilities to ensure long-term growth.

A shopper compares plant-based meat products in a supermarket aisle

Company and Fundraising Database

Explore the landscape of plant-based, cultivated, and fermentation companies including consumer brands, manufacturers, and ingredients companies.

Crashing waves from above

Action paper: An ocean of opportunity

This action paper explores alternative seafood’s role in creating a sustainable, secure, and just food system.

An image showing the 2022 state of the industry, plant-based meat, eggs, seafood, and dairy report cover

State of the Industry Report: Plant-based meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy

This report details the commercial landscape, sales, investments, public funding, and innovation trends in the plant-based meat, seafood, egg, and dairy industry.

An image of the 2022 state of the industry fermentation report cover

State of the Industry Report: Fermentation

This report details the commercial landscape, investments, regulatory developments, and scientific progress in the fermentation for alternative proteins industry.

2022 cultivated meat and seafood state of the industry report cover

State of the Industry Report: Cultivated meat

This report details the commercial landscape, investments, regulatory developments, and scientific progress in the cultivated meat and seafood industry.

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Contract Manufacturing Database

Use this directory to find co-manufacturers, pilot plants, co-packers, private labelers, and contract manufacturing consultants for alt proteins.

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Consumer insights

Understand consumers, demographics, adoption, motivations, category descriptors, and opportunities for future research in alternative proteins.

Innovation opportunities for manufacturers

GFI has identified specific commercial white spaces that offer clear business opportunities for manufacturers in the industry. View our full solutions database for further ideas.

  • Cultivated icon Cultivated
  • Fermentation icon Fermentation
  • Plant-based icon Plant-Based

Forging product development partnerships among ingredient suppliers and manufacturers

Opportunities exist to coordinate product development partnerships between ingredient suppliers, strategic partners, and product manufacturers to directly engage more holistically on product formulation.

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  • Plant-based icon Plant-Based

Fiber spinning innovations for improved plant protein texturization

Fibers from non-traditional texturization techniques like electrospinning, jet spinning, or blow spinning could impart texture throughout a product even if they don’t comprise the bulk of the end product, which…

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  • Plant-based icon Plant-Based

Expanded product development in plant-based meat snacks

Plant-based meat snacks could tap into underlying trends in snacks replacing meals and increased consumer interest in high-protein, low-sugar foods. Product innovation is needed to match the taste, price, and…

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  • Plant-based icon Plant-Based

Next-generation plant-based turkey products

There has been little in the way of publicly-announced R&D or commercial efforts to develop the next generation of tasty and affordable plant-based turkey products. There is room for innovation…

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