Plant-based foods are a booming business
Food manufacturers ranging from startups to leading consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies are innovating rapidly in this category. Even the world’s largest meat companies are embracing plant-based meat. These next-generation plant-based meat, egg, and dairy products are increasingly competitive with animal products on the key drivers of consumer choice: taste, price, and accessibility.
A growing number of mainstream consumers are buying plant-based options
In fact, these products are a key driver of growth at grocery retailers nationwide, outpacing overall food growth by more than five times. SPINS retail sales data released March 3, 2020, shows that grocery sales of plant-based foods that directly replace animal products grew 29% since 2017, reaching $5 billion in 2019.
We’ve summarized highlights from the data here—both for the market as a whole and for key plant-based categories—to help you understand the size and growth of the plant-based food industry.
Note: The 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.
Dollar sales of plant-based foods grew 11 percent in the past year and 29 percent over the past two years
Comparatively, total U.S. retail food dollar sales grew just 2 percent over the past year and 4 percent over the past two years.
Plant-based milk is the most developed of all plant-based categories
“Other plant-based dairy” is the next most developed category, followed by plant-based meat. The least developed—but fastest-growing—category is plant-based eggs.
Across key categories, dollar sales of plant-based foods are growing significantly
By comparison dollar sales of conventional animal foods are declining or growing only modestly.
Over the past year, dollar sales of conventional milk were flat, while dollar sales of conventional yogurt and conventional eggs decreased by 1 and 10 percent, respectively.
Plant-based meat market
The plant-based meat category is worth $939 million.
Dollar sales of plant-based meat grew 18 percent in the past year and 38 percent over the past two years.
Over 208 million units of plant-based meat were sold in the United States during the past year.
Plant-based meat accounts for 2 percent of all dollar sales for retail packaged meat and approximately 1 percent of all dollar sales for total retail meat (including random-weight meat).*
The plant-based meat category today is reminiscent of the plant-based milk category when it was in its early stages of rapid growth. Plant-based milk now accounts for 14% of all dollar sales for retail milk.
The plant-based meat category has the potential to reach market share parity with plant-based milk. This would be a 13-point gain of market share of total retail meat, which is an opportunity currently worth $12 billion.
Frozen plant-based meat currently accounts for the largest percentage of plant-based meat sales.
Frozen plant-based meat accounts for 66 percent of all plant-based meat dollar sales, while refrigerated plant-based meat accounts for 33 percent. Shelf-stable plant-based meat accounts for just 1 percent.
Refrigerated plant-based meat sales are growing faster than frozen meat sales.
Dollar sales of refrigerated plant-based meat grew 63 percent over the past year, much more rapidly than dollar sales of frozen plant-based meat, which grew just 4 percent. Over the past two years, dollar sales of refrigerated plant-based meat grew 125 percent, while dollar sales of frozen plant-based meat grew 15 percent.
This reflects a shift in both product innovation and merchandising strategies, with refrigerated plant-based meat increasingly shelved in the refrigerated meat case.
The top-selling forms of plant-based meat are burgers, followed by links (sausages and hot dogs), and then patties (chicken patties and breakfast patties).
Sales of burgers reached $283 million, sales of links reached $159 million, and sales of patties reached $120 million.
Links and grounds have experienced strong growth, with increases of 43% and 37% respectively over the past year.
The refrigerated versus frozen dynamic also holds among plant-based meat product types.
Refrigerated plant-based burgers grew 123 percent over the past year and a massive 555 percent over the past two years, while frozen plant-based burger growth declined by 4 percent over the past year and grew at only 1 percent over the past 2 years.
Refrigerated plant-based links grew 57 percent over the past year and 93 percent over the past two years, while frozen plant-based links grew 15 percent over the past year and 29 percent over the past two years.
Plant-based seafood accounts for just $9.5 million (1 percent) of total plant-based meat dollar sales.
Approximately 91 percent of plant-based seafood dollar sales are from the frozen section. Plant-based seafood is a market white space.
Plant-Based Meat Purchase Dynamics1
Of all U.S. households, 14 percent purchase plant-based meat, which equates to approximately 18 million households.
This is an increase of 1.1 points, or 8.5 percent, from last year’s 12.9 percent of U.S. households.
Of households purchasing plant-based meat, 60.1 percent purchased plant-based meat two or more times.
Noting that household penetration of plant-based milk is 41 percent, the number of households purchasing plant-based meat is positioned to increase almost threefold.
Dollar sales per buyer of plant-based meat increased $0.80 over the past year to $45.90 per buyer.
Shoppers spent $8.40 per trip on plant-based meat, an increase of 0.3% over the past year. Trips per buyer increased 1.4% over the past year to 5.4 trips per buyer.
Plant-based milk market
The plant-based milk category is worth $2 billion.
Plant-based milk alone accounts 40 percent of the total plant-based food market.
Dollar sales of plant-based milk grew 5 percent in the past year and 14 percent over the past two years.
Over 620 million units of plant-based milk were sold in the past year.
Plant-based milk accounts for 14% of all dollar sales of retail milk.
Growth in plant-based milk is not being driven solely by increases in distribution. Rather, category dollar velocity is also driving the increase.
Plant-based milk category dollar velocity is up over 7 percent from last year (as measured by dollar sales over total distribution points in MULO).
Plant-based milk is the most developed of all plant-based food categories, with these products consistently shelved adjacent to their animal-based counterpart.
Refrigerated plant-based milk makes up 89.5 percent of all plant-based milk dollar sales, while shelf-stable plant-based milk now makes up just 10.5 percent.
Dollar sales of refrigerated plant-based milk increased 6% over the past year, while dollar sales of shelf-stable plant-based milk decreased 5%.
Moving plant-based milk to the refrigerated set over a decade ago was key to introducing it to a much larger consumer base, thus increasing household penetration and rapidly growing category sales.
Almond milk is the category leader with $1.3 billion in dollar sales.
This is the majority of category dollar sales, which continue to increase.
Oat milk reached $84 million in sales and is the fastest-growing plant-based milk.
Dollar sales of oat milk grew 686 percent in the past year and 1,946 percent over the past two years.
Of all U.S. households, 41.3 percent purchase plant-based milk, which equates to almost 53 million households.
This is an increase of 1.4 points, or 3.5 percent, from last year’s 39.9 percent of U.S. households.
Of households purchasing refrigerated plant-based milk, 75.6 percent purchased refrigerated plant-based milk two or more times.
Dollar sales per buyer of refrigerated plant-based milk increased $0.50 over the past year to $36.50 per buyer.
Trips to purchase refrigerated plant-based milk increased 2.7% per buyer over the past year to 9.1 trips per buyer.
The market for other plant-based dairy
Emerging plant-based dairy categories have experienced some of the greatest dollar sales growth.
The growth of plant-based milk—now purchased by 41% of households—has laid the groundwork for growth in other plant-based dairy categories.
Together, these other plant-based dairy categories are worth $1.4 billion.
Combined dollar sales of these other plant-based dairy categories grew 19% in the past year and 53% in the past two years.
Plant-based ice cream and frozen novelty
The plant-based ice cream and frozen novelty category is worth $336 million.
Dollar sales of plant-based ice cream and frozen novelty grew 6% in the past year and 34% over the past two years.
The plant-based yogurt category is worth $283 million.
Dollar sales of plant-based yogurt grew 31% in the past year and 95% over the past two years.
The plant-based butter category is worth $198 million.
Dollar sales of plant-based butter grew 8% in the past year and 15% over the past two years.
The plant-based cheese category is worth $189 million.
Dollar sales of plant-based cheese grew 18% in the past year and 51% over the past two years.
The plant-based creamer category is worth $287 million.
Dollar sales of plant-based creamer grew 34% in the past year and 93% over the past two years.
Plant-based ready-to-drink beverages
The plant-based ready-to-drink beverages category is worth $122 million.
Dollar sales of plant-based ready-to-drink beverages grew 18% in the past year and 39% over the past two years.
Plant-based dairy spreads, dips, sour cream, and sauces
The plant-based dairy spreads, dips, sour cream, and sauces category is worth $30 million.
Dollar sales of plant-based dairy spreads, dips, sour cream, and sauces grew 54% in the past year and 135% over the past two years.
Other plant-based categories
The plant-based meal category, comprising frozen and shelf-stable meals, is worth $377 million.
Dollar sales of plant-based meals grew 8% in the past year and 25% over the past two years.
The category of refrigerated plant-based meals containing direct replacements of animal ingredients is underdeveloped and not included here. It is a clear market white space.
The plant-based eggs category is worth $10 million.
Dollar sales of plant-based eggs grew 192% in the past year and 228% over the past two years.
Plant-based condiments, dressing, and mayo
The plant-based condiments, dressing, and mayo category is worth $64 million.
Dollar sales of plant-based condiments, dressing, and mayo declined by 11% in the past year due to decreases in distribution, but in total, the category increased by 1% over the past two years.
Tofu and tempeh
The tofu and tempeh category is worth $128 million.
Dollar sales of tofu and tempeh grew 8% in the past year and 15% over the past two years.
About the data
The data summarized here represents U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods that directly replace animal products, including meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy, as well as meals that contain animal ingredient replacements. This data covers the grocery marketplace and was obtained over the 52-week and 104-week periods ending December 29, 2019, from the SPINSscan Natural, Specialty Gourmet, and Conventional Multi Outlet (powered by IRI) channels. The 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 does not align with standard SPINS categories.
1,2 The Food Industry Association & IRI. (2020). Understanding the plant-based food consumer [Webinar].
*Note: SPINS does not report non-UPC meat counter sales. To account for this, the plant-based meat total retail share calculation uses the $95 billion total meat market size reported by Nielsen, as this number includes both retail packaged meat sales and non-UPC meat counter sales.
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