Plant-based foods are a booming business.
Food manufacturers ranging from startups to leading CPG companies to the world’s largest meat companies are innovating rapidly in the plant-based market. Next-generation plant-based meat, egg, and dairy products are increasingly competitive with animal products on taste, price, and accessibility. Distribution is expanding, and a growing number of mainstream consumers are buying plant-based options. In the U.S., 98 percent of people who buy plant-based meat also purchase conventional meat.
Plant-based foods in the U.S. are a $7 billion market.
Plant-based products are a key driver of sales growth at grocery retailers nationwide, growing almost twice as fast as overall food sales. SPINS retail sales data released April 6, 2021, shows that grocery sales of plant-based foods that directly replace animal products have grown 27 percent in the past year to $7 billion.
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. Read more about our methodology below.
We’ve summarized highlights from the data here to help you understand the size and growth of the U.S. retail plant-based food industry. We cover both the plant-based food market as a whole and key plant-based categories like meat and milk.
Overall plant-based food market
Key sales data
Plant-based food sales in 2020 grew 2x faster than overall food sales.
- Dollar sales growth of plant-based foods is outpacing dollar sales growth of overall foods.
- Dollar sales of plant-based foods grew 27 percent in the past year and 43 percent over the past two years to reach $7 billion.
- Comparatively, total U.S. retail food dollar sales grew just 15 percent over the past year and 17 percent over the past two years.
- Unit sales of plant-based foods is also up by 22 percent.
Plant-based foods categories are in various stages of development. Notably, most categories are experiencing rapid, double-digit growth.
Plant-based milk is the most developed of all plant-based categories, with $2.5 billion in 2020 dollar sales. Plant-based meat is a rapidly growing category, with $1.4 billion in 2020 dollar sales, growing 45% since 2019. The least developed category, although the fastest-growing, is plant-based eggs.
Almost all plant-based categories experienced strong dollar sales growth in 2020.
The top three fastest-growing categories were plant-based eggs, plant-based dairy spreads, dips, sour cream, and sauces, and plant-based meat.
Plant-based food sales by region
The growth of plant-based food sales in the U.S. is consistent across geographic regions.
The West, North Central, North East, and South regions each experienced more than 25% growth in dollar sales of total plant-based foods in 2020.
In addition to strong sales growth, plant-based categories are seeing growth on other key metrics such as household penetration and repeat purchase rate.
- Six out of ten U.S. households purchase plant-based foods, up several points over the course of 2020.
- Household penetration is highest for plant-based milk, with household penetration at 39%.
- Plant-based meat has the second-highest household penetration rate — and it’s growing rapidly, from about 14% in 2019 to almost 18% in 2020.
Plant-based food purchase dynamics at a glance
78% of people who purchase plant-based products are repeat buyers for the total plant-based food category. The three categories with the highest repeat purchase rates are plant-based milk at 75%, followed by plant-based meat and plant-based cheese, both above 60%. Repeat purchase rates are also increasing for plant-based ice cream, tofu and tempeh, and plant-based eggs. Not only are there more buyers shopping these categories, dollar sales per buyer is also increasing across plant-based categories.
Comparison to animal-based foods
While most food categories experienced growth due to increased spending in retail as a result of Covid-19, dollar sales growth of plant-based foods outpaced dollar sales growth of animal-based foods in 2020.
Dollar sales of plant-based meat, cheese, creamer, milk, and yogurt grew at more than twice the rate of their animal-based counterparts. Plant-based egg sales grew at almost 10 times the rate of animal-based egg sales.
Plant-based product growth is even stronger in terms of two-year dollar sales growth:
- Plant-based meat and plant-based milk grew at 3 times the rate of their animal-based counterparts.
- Plant-based cheese and plant-based creamer grew at more than 3 times the rate of their animal-based counterparts.
- Plant-based yogurt and plant-based eggs massively outperformed their animal-based counterparts, growing at more than 30 and 117 times the rate of their animal-based counterparts, respectively.
Because of their rapid growth compared to animal-based categories, plant-based category dollar sales in 2020 made up a larger portion of dollar share compared to 2019.
The plant-based dollar share of the total category grew most signficiantly for the egg, meat, and cheese categories.
Overall consumer demographics
A growing and diverse group of consumers are seeking out plant-based products.
Increasing plant-based consumption is a trend among younger and diverse consumer
groups. These customers are also more likely to express an interest in eating more plant-based foods in the future.
Compared to the average consumer, purchasers of plant-based products tend to be younger and from higher income brackets, and tend to have college or graduate degrees. Consumer demographic data shows that purchasers of plant-based products:
- Over-index for the 18-54 age bracket.
- Over-index for income levels greater than $50,000.
- Over-index for having college or graduate degrees.
- Over-index for people of color, with high interactions from Asians.
- Over-index for households with children.
Plant-based meat market
A sizable and rapidly-growing category, the plant-based meat market is worth $1.4 billion. The category increased by more than $430 million in sales from 2019 to 2020.
Key sales data
Plant-based meat sales
2020 was ripe with new product introductions and increased consumer adoption in the plant-based meat category.
As appetites grow for different plant-based meat types and formats, the category continues to expand and diversify. In addition to plant-based beef, consumers are shopping for plant-based chicken, pork, and seafood.
- The plant-based meat market is worth $1.4 billion. The category increased by more than $430 million in sales from 2019 to 2020.
- Dollar sales of plant-based meat grew 45 percent in the past year and 72 percent over the past two years.
- Over 290 million units of plant-based meat were sold in the past year, a unit increase of 36 percent.
- Plant-based meat sales now account for 2.7 percent of all dollar sales for retail packaged meat and approximately 1.4 percent of all dollar sales for total retail meat (including random-weight meat).*
The plant-based meat market today is, in ways, reminiscent of the plant-based milk market when it was in its early stages of rapid growth. Today, plant-based milk accounts for 15.2 percent of all dollar sales for retail milk. Assuming the plant-based meat category has the potential to reach market share parity with plant-based milk, that represents a 14-point growth in plant-based meat’s share of the total meat market. This opportunity is worth $14 billion.
Plant-based meat segment insights
Refrigerated vs. frozen
Refrigerated plant-based meat continues to drive category growth and has taken an increasingly larger share of the category over the past two years.
This reflects shifts in both product innovation and merchandising strategies across the plant-based industry. Refrigerated plant-based meat is increasingly shelved in the meat case (rather than a specialty vegan case).
Frozen plant-based meat is still seeing product innovation and double-digit sales growth.
Plant-based meat formats
The top-selling forms of plant-based meat are burgers, followed by sausage links and patties, then nuggets, tenders, and cutlets.
The fastest-growing format was plant-based grounds, which more than doubled its size over the course of 2020.
The refrigerated versus frozen dynamic also holds among plant-based meat product formats, with refrigerated product formats tending to grow faster than their frozen counterparts.
Analog vs. non-analog plant-based meat products
Analog products that closely match the taste, texture, and appearance of animal-based meat make up the majority of the plant-based meat category and drive category growth.
By comparison, non-analog products like black bean burgers and veggie burgers only make up a small percentage of the overall plant-based meat category and have lower dollar sales growth.
Plant-based beef is the highest selling subcategory of plant-based meat, followed by plant-based pork and chicken. Plant-based seafood remains a market white space.
Purchase dynamics: Plant-based meat sales
Household penetration and repeat purchase
Plant-based meat is increasingly common in U.S. households. Compared with household penetration of plant-based milk at 39 percent, the number of households purchasing plant-based meat is positioned to increase more than twofold.
- Of all U.S. households, 18 percent purchased plant-based meat, which equates to almost 23 million households.
- This is an increase of 3.4 points, a 24.1 percent increase from last year’s penetration rate of 14.2 percent of U.S. households.
- Of households purchasing plant-based meat, 63.1 percent were repeat purchasers of plant-based meat.
Plant-based milk market
The plant-based milk category is the most developed plant-based category, worth $2.5 billion.
Plant-based milk alone accounts for 35 percent of the total plant-based food market.
Key sales data
Plant-based milk sales
Plant-based milk—already a sizable category accounting for 15 percent of all dollar sales of retail milk—experienced a year of significant growth in 2020.
- The plant-based milk category is worth $2.5 billion.
- Plant-based milk alone accounts for 35 percent of the total plant-based food market.
- Dollar sales of plant-based milk grew 20 percent in the past year and 27 percent over the past two years.
- More than 745 million units of plant-based milk were sold in 2020, and unit sales grew 18 percent.
- Plant-based milk accounts for 15 percent of all dollar sales of retail milk.
- Plant-based milk is the most developed of all plant-based food categories and the category is consistently shelved adjacent to its animal-based counterpart.
Plant-based milk segment insights
Refrigerated vs. shelf-stable
- Refrigerated plant-based milk makes up the majority of category sales.
- 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.
Plant-based milk types
Although plant-based milk is a mature category, it is clear that consumers have an appetite for continued innovation in the plant-based milk space.
- Almond milk is the category leader, followed by oat milk, then soy milk.
- Oat milk has experienced massive growth over the prior two years, growing from a tiny segment of the market in 2018 to the second largest plant-based milk product type in 2020.
Purchase dynamics: Plant-based milk sales
Household penetration and repeat purchase
Plant-based milk is common in U.S. households. Household penetration and repeat purchase are both growing significantly.
- Of all U.S. households, 39 percent purchase plant-based milk, which equates to more than 50 million households.
- This is an increase of 1.8 points, or 4.8 percent, from last year’s 37.2 percent of U.S. households.
- Of households purchasing refrigerated plant-based milk, 75.4 percent are repeat purchasers. This is an increase of 1.8 points, or 2.4 percent, from last year’s 73.6 percent repeat purchase rate.
The market for other plant-based dairy and eggs
Emerging plant-based dairy and egg categories have experienced some of the greatest dollar sales growth.
Key sales data
Other plant-based dairy and egg sales
Emerging plant-based dairy and egg categories have experienced some of the greatest dollar sales growth.
- The growth of plant-based milk—now purchased by 39 percent of households—has laid the groundwork for growth in other plant-based dairy categories by introducing consumers to these types of products.
- Together, these other plant-based dairy categories, including plant-based ice cream and frozen novelty, creamer, yogurt, butter, cheese, RTD beverages, and spreads, dips, sour cream, and sauces, are worth $1.9 billion.
- Combined dollar sales of these categories grew 28 percent in the past year and 55 percent in the past two years.
Plant-based ice cream and frozen novelty sales
The growth of the plant-based ice cream and frozen novelty category accelerated in 2020.
- The plant-based ice cream and frozen novelty category is worth $435 million.
- Dollar sales of plant-based ice cream and frozen novelty grew 20 percent in the past year and 32 percent over the past two years. More than 88 million units of plant-based ice cream and frozen novelty were sold in 2020, and unit sales grew 16 percent.
Plant-based creamer sales
The plant-based creamer category has experienced two consecutive years of very strong growth.
- The plant-based creamer category is worth $394 million.
- Dollar sales of plant-based creamer grew 32 percent in the past year and 77 percent over the past two years. More than 98 million units of plant-based creamer were sold in 2020, and unit sales grew 26 percent.
Plant-based yogurt sales
Plant-based yogurt is a rapidly growing category, and there remains a significant dollar opportunity to gain market share of the overall yogurt market.
- The plant-based yogurt category is worth $343 million.
- Dollar sales of plant-based yogurt grew 20 percent in the past year and 61 percent over the past two years. More than 162 million units of plant-based yogurt were sold in 2020, and unit sales grew 16 percent.
Plant-based butter sales
Plant-based butter experienced a year of rapid growth — dollar sales grew more than four times faster in 2020 than in 2019.
- The plant-based butter category is worth $275 million.
- Dollar sales of plant-based butter grew 36 percent in the past year and 47 percent over the past two years. More than 69 million units of plant-based butter were sold in 2020, and unit sales grew 35 percent.
Plant-based cheese sales
Consumers are hungry for high-fidelity plant-based cheese products. The market is growing rapidly both in dollar sales and unit sales.
- The plant-based cheese category is worth $270 million.
- Dollar sales of plant-based cheese grew 42 percent in the past year and 70 percent over the past two years. More than 54 million units of plant-based cheese were sold in 2020, and unit sales grew 40 percent.
Plant-based ready-to-drink beverage sales
Consumers are increasingly purchasing ready-to-drink beverages that contain plant-based replacements for dairy products.
- The plant-based ready-to-drink beverages category is worth $137 million.
- Dollar sales of plant-based ready-to-drink beverages grew 12 percent in the past year and 33 percent over the past two years. More than 41 million units of plant-based ready-to-drink beverages were sold in 2020, and unit sales grew 21 percent.
Plant-based egg sales
The plant-based egg category is modest in size yet growing at an exceptionally high rate.
- The plant-based eggs category is worth $27 million.
- Dollar sales of plant-based eggs grew 168 percent in the past year and 706 percent over the past two years. More than 4 million units of plant-based eggs were sold in 2020, and unit sales grew 223 percent.
About the data
To size the U.S. retail market for plant-based foods, GFI and the Plant Based Foods Association commissioned retail sales data from the market research firm SPINS. The firm built the dataset by first pulling in all products with the SPINS “plant-based positioned” product attribute and, SPINS “plant-based diet” product attribute, as well as any products from previously pulled product categories that were not coded with the plant-based positioned or plant-based diet product attributes. The dataset was further edited by removing any products that did not contain direct replacements for animal products (meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy). Inherently plant-based foods, such as chickpeas and kale, are not included. Due to the custom nature of these categories, the retail data presented in this report will not align with standard SPINS categories. SPINS obtained the data over the 52-week and 104-week periods ending December 27, 2020, from the SPINS Natural Enhanced and Conventional Multi Outlet (powered by IRI) grocery channels. SPINS defines these channels as follows:
Conventional Multi Outlet (MULO): More than 104,000 retail locations spanning grocery, drug, mass, dollar, military, and club.
Natural Enhanced: More than 1,800 full-format stores with $2 million+ in annual sales and 40 percent or more of UPC coded sales from natural/organic/specialty products.
This is generally considered the broadest available view of retail food sales, although not all retailers are represented. Some companies, such as Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, and Costco, do not report their scanner data to SPINS or IRI.
Note: Two additional plant-based categories—plant-based baked goods and cookies and plant-based protein liquids and powders—were added to this year’s plant-based food industry analysis compared to analysis released in previous years. These two additional categories represented $444 million, 6 percent of the total 2020 market size.
Consumer panel data
In order to better understand consumer purchasing dynamics and demographics, GFI and the Plant Based Foods Association also commissioned consumer panel data from SPINS. SPINS acquires its panel data through the National Consumer Panel, a Nielsen and IRI joint venture. NCP’s panel is composed of roughly 100,000 households, which are recruited and selected based on U.S. population statistics and demographic and geographic criteria. GFI purchased consumer panel data based on the same custom plant-based categories it created for its purchase of point-of-sale data. Each plant-based product line covered in the panel data was created at the UPC level, and each has an identical product composition as its corresponding plant-based category presented in the point-of-sale data that GFI and PBFA purchased from SPINS. Due to the custom nature of these categories, the panel data presented in this report will not align with standard SPINS categories. SPINS obtained the data over the 52-week ending December 27, 2020, and the 52-week period ending December 29, 2019, from all U.S. outlets.
Watch our on-demand webinar with special guests from the Plant Based Foods Association and SPINS for an overview of the plant-based retail market.
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