Growth and challenges in the sector

The U.S. plant-based meat and seafood retail sector experienced significant growth over the last decade. When GFI began tracking plant-based meat and seafood sales in U.S. retail, we sized the 2017 market at $682 million, according to SPINS data. In 2023, the market was worth $1.2 billion. The last five years, in particular, saw a surge in innovation, driven by products targeting meat-eating consumers by more closely mimicking the taste and texture of conventional meat. 

Against this backdrop of long-term progress, 2023 was characterized in the U.S. by declining retail dollar and unit sales, increased average unit prices, and lower consumer engagement in the plant-based meat and seafood category. Plant-based meat and seafood dollar sales decreased 12 percent, while unit sales decreased 19 percent. The category’s performance was relatively weak compared to total food and beverage and the conventional meat and seafood category, which both saw slight unit declines.

Challenging market and consumer forces

Several factors contributed to these trends. Retail sector volatility, dating back to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, dramatically shifted volume to the retail sector, resulting in enhanced supply chain disruptions and inflated sales growth. More recently, elevated inflation contributed to higher product prices in the plant-based meat and seafood aisle, where products often cost 2x-4x more than their conventional counterparts. Importantly, the inflation across the food and beverage space, which was more extreme than in other sectors, squeezed consumer budgets and limited their willingness to purchase premium-priced products. Consumer purchasing patterns adjusted to this new reality. 

In tandem, consumers leaving the category report that current products aren’t meeting their expectations on key product attributes, including taste and price. For example, in an August 2023 poll Morning Consult conducted on behalf of GFI, half of U.S. adults who have tried plant-based meat just once identified taste as a reason they didn’t try it again. 

These trends contributed to sales declines, leading to plant-based meat and seafood products contending with shrinking shelf space as retailers worked to optimize assortments. Due to the broader macroeconomic conditions, investments in the sector slowed (as did investments across the board). Facing funding and revenue challenges, many companies limited innovation and refocused on their core offerings. Indeed, plant-based meat total distribution points at retail dropped seven percent in 2023, which played a role in sales declines, along with decreased velocity.

The market opportunity remains

Despite these recent trends, the plant-based meat and seafood category remains a sizable market with significant upside. With well over a billion dollars in U.S. retail sales and over $300 million in U.S. broadline distributor foodservice sales—a segment that represents ~41 percent of total foodservice–  plant-based meat and seafood is an emerging category with meaningful consumer reach in a country where nearly every household purchases conventional meat. In 2023, 95 percent of U.S. households that purchased plant-based meat and seafood also purchased conventional meat, demonstrating that the market is not limited to solely vegan and vegetarian households. 

The runway that remains is considerable—only 15 percent of households that purchased conventional meat also purchased plant-based meat and seafood. These products are increasingly marketed as a swap-in, center-of-plate protein that can appeal to meat-eaters—although there’s still work to be done for plant-based meat to reach taste and price parity with conventional meat. There is a large market opportunity for the plant-based meat category, as demonstrated by sustained consumer aspirations to reduce meat consumption, demographic shifts, and the potential of innovation to improve open product challenges with taste and affordability.

Consumer tailwinds and opportunities

A broader understanding of current consumer sentiment and future purchase intent can further contextualize recent sales declines. According to a survey Morning Consult conducted on behalf of GFI of U.S. adults in December 2023, 25 percent of Americans report eating plant-based meat at least once per month over the past year. Meanwhile, lapsed users who have not eaten it in the past year remain very open to repurchasing if products can more closely match the taste and texture of meat.

Meat reduction

Despite Americans’ high meat consumption and desire for protein, many express interest in reducing meat consumption. A survey by GFI and Embold Research in 2022 found that 27 percent of consumers claim to have eaten less meat in the past few years; AP/NORC saw as high as 43 percent in 2023.

Health and social factors

Consumers reducing meat consumption consistently cite health as a reason, with 57 percent claiming this contributes “a lot” or “some” to their meat reduction in a survey conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of GFI in December 2023. An AP-NORC survey similarly found that 50 percent of consumers claim that health is their top reason for reducing meat consumption when asked to choose between health, money, the environment, and taste.

55 percent of Americans say they consider the use of antibiotics in meat when choosing whether to eat meat and 55 percent the risk of foodborne illness. While these are higher than the number of consumers who report reducing their meat consumption, they point to public health concerns as a tension many consumers face. 
 
Many consumers also worry about the individual health effects of meat consumption. A 2021 study found eight to 28 percent of those surveyed were aware of increased risks of various conditions including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes from red meat consumption, with heart disease awareness highest at 28 percent.

Awareness, familiarity, and appeal

A December 2023 poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of GFI shows 58 percent of U.S. adults claim awareness of plant-based meat and 47 percent rate themselves as “very” or “somewhat” familiar. 41 percent claimed to have seen, read, or heard “a lot” or “some” about plant-based meat in the past year, though only 10 percent claimed to have heard “a lot,” suggesting many remain unaware of recent coverage of the category, giving companies room to shape perceptions. And the more consumers hear about plant-based meat, the more likely they are to express an interest in purchasing it.

Almost half of American adults (43 percent according to a poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of GFI in December 2023) report having ever tried a plant-based meat product, leaving 51 percent who have yet to try plant-based meat. This makes it crucial for plant-based meat brands to continue seeking new audiences.

Future intent to consume plant-based meat

Among the 56 percent of U.S. adults who have not yet tried plant-based meat, about half (47 percent) are open to purchasing plant-based meat for various reasons, with the top reason being if products can exactly mimic the taste and texture of meat and if products were priced lower than conventional meat. Meanwhile, lapsed users who have not purchased in the past year remain very open to repurchasing if products can more closely match the taste and texture of meat. A survey by Mintel shows that many consumers even expect to purchase plant-based meat products in the coming year, at 32 percent. Overall, purchase intent outpaces existing household penetration rates, which suggests further room for the plant-based meat market to grow based on aspirational consumer interest.
 
For more consumer insights, see our latest State of the Industry Report: Plant-based meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy.

Success is not inevitable

It’s clear that while there’s a real opportunity for growth of the plant-based meat category, it is not inevitable. Aspirations abound for the plant-based meat and seafood industry to play a meaningful role in sustainably and efficiently feeding billions of people, mitigating the global impacts of climate change, and protecting public health. Yet there are signals that, for the market to see sustained growth, products will need to better deliver on the key consumer drivers of taste and price, while offering clear propositions for consumers to make the switch, such as compelling health benefits. 

Jump to emerging areas and opportunities to dive into key opportunities to grow the alternative protein sector.

This analysis page will leverage U.S. retail sales data from SPINS commissioned by GFI and the Plant Based Foods Association to dive into the latest trends in the plant-based meat and seafood category, frame the current state of the market, and explore what key opportunities lie ahead.

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Overall sales performance

After a decade of relative growth, the plant-based meat and seafood category in U.S. retail experienced both dollar and unit sales declines in 2023. These declines were larger than those experienced by conventional meat and the total food and beverage sector. They can be contextualized by macroeconomic factors as well as remaining opportunities to meet consumer needs in the category.

In U.S. retail in 2023, the plant-based meat and seafood category experienced both dollar (-12 percent) and unit (-19 percent) sales declines compared to the previous year. Meanwhile, total food and beverage dollar sales grew six percent, driven by price increases, while unit sales declined two percent. Conventional meat dollar sales held flat while unit sales declined two percent. The increase in average price per unit for plant-based meat and seafood was elevated (+9 percent) relative to conventional meat and seafood (+three percent) and total food and beverage (+8 percent).

This table shows that for plant-based meat and seafood both dollar and unit sales decreased from 2022-2023, while for the total food and beverage market total dollar sales increased and unit sales decreased. Overall, average unit prices increased from 2022 for total food and beverage, conventional meat and seafood, and plant-based meat and seafood.

While plant-based meat and seafood experienced higher sales declines by percentage, it was off a smaller base. For context, packaged conventional meat unit sales declined by 283 million units from 2022 to 2023, while plant-based meat and seafood unit sales declined by 52 million units. That said, given the relatively nascent status of the plant-based meat and seafood category, companies should consider strategic changes that can enable a near-term return to growth to ensure success in the long term.

These two line graphs show that plant-based meat and seafood dollar and unit sales in u. S. Retail decreased from 2021-2023, with a more significant decrease in the past year.

In 2023, plant-based meat and seafood’s dollar share was 1.8 percent of total retail packaged meat dollar sales, or approximately 0.9 percent of the total meat category, including random-weight meat. This underscores the nascency—and potential—of the category, given that plant-based milk has grown to represent 15 percent of total fluid milk dollar sales, and other emerging categories like plant-based creamers and plant-based protein liquids and powders enjoy a greater-than-fiver percent dollar share of their respective categories.

Department

The majority of the plant-based meat and seafood category is in the frozen aisle. Sales declines in 2023 were led by the refrigerated segment while price increases hit the frozen department at a higher rate.

This bar graph shows that plant-based meat and seafood dollars sales are dominated by frozen which is more than double refrigerated sales. All grocery store departments, frozen, refrigerated, and shelf-stable saw declines in dollar and unit sales over the past year.

Animal-type

From an animal-type perspective, all subcategories saw sales decline in 2023. The top three segments—plant-based beef, chicken, and pork—made up nearly 90 percent of total category sales.

This bar graph shows that beef, chicken, and pork dominated plant-based and seafood meat sales. Dollar and unit sales decreased for all plant-based meat and seafood subcategories (beef, chicken, pork, plant-forward, analog, turkey, seafood, and other) over the past year.

As was the case for the overall category, unit velocity declines were a major source of volume losses for the top four animal types. Distribution losses played a role as well, particularly in plant-based beef, where distribution fell 11 percent in 2023. Plant-based chicken experienced just a three percent loss in distribution after growing 19 percent in 2022. Average prices per unit grew in the double-digit percentages for all of the top four segments (except for pork, which experienced a price increase of just four percent in 2023), demonstrating that price increases were a common factor in the category.

**”Plant-forward” refers to meat alternatives that are primarily whole vegetables or highlight whole plant ingredients as primary components. Examples include bean burgers, cauliflower wings, or jackfruit shreds. Generally, these products do not attempt to fully replicate the taste, texture, appearance, and experience of conventional meat. Tofu, tempeh, and seitan are not included in the plant-based meat and seafood category. Rather, those products are reported on in a separate category discussed in our retail market webpage. 

Note: Tofu and tempeh items are not captured in the retail data in above sections covering plant-based meat and seafood. Instead, they are reported on in a separate category—tofu, tempeh, and seitan. See data from that category, and many others across plant-based foods, on GFI’s webpage U.S. retail market insights for the plant-based industry.

Product format

All product formats saw unit sales decline in 2023. Shreds, chunks, strips, filets, steaks, and cutlets experienced the lowest rate of unit declines in the category and grew dollar sales significantly (driven by a combination of new product launches at higher average price points as well as inflation of existing products).

This bar graph shows sales totals for different plant-based meat and seafood product formats, the top five in order of highest sales to lowest were patties; nuggets, tenders, and wings; grounds; hot dogs, brats, and sausage; and breakfast links and patties.

As was the case for animal-type sales, unit velocity declines were the primary source of volume loss in 2023 for the top format types. Meanwhile, price increases elevated dollar sales relative to unit sales for the top segments, particularly patties and nuggets, tenders, and wings. Distribution impacted sales as well—patties (-14 percent) and grounds (-15 percent) experienced significant declines while smaller segments like hot dogs, brats, and sausages and shreds, chunks, and strips experienced modest distribution growth in 2023.

Despite sales declines in 2023, filets, steaks, and cutlets have emerged as a category in recent years, with units up six percent and dollar sales up 41 percent from 2021 to 2023. This has been driven primarily by distribution gains of 33 percent over the same timeframe. This segment saw an uptick in innovation in 2022 and 2023 as manufacturers expanded the plant-based meat and seafood category to new and different eating occasions and product functionalities.

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Key drivers

All three levers of retail sales—price, distribution, and velocity—impacted the trajectory of plant-based meat and seafood sales in 2023. Notably, velocity declines were the primary factor in refrigerated plant-based meat sales decreases while both distribution and velocity losses were primary factors in frozen plant-based meat sales decreases. Across the category, price increases resulted in dollar sales declining at a slower rate than unit sales. There are clear opportunities to increase consumer engagement with the plant-based meat category to improve velocities and return the category to growth.

Price

Inflation remains a driver of dynamics in the food and beverage industry broadly, as well as specifically in the conventional meat and plant-based meat and seafood categories. In 2023, prices continued to increase across the board.

  • Inflation has been a major trend in the food industry in the last few years. In 2023, food-at-home prices were 5% higher than the year prior, twice the 20-year average for retail food price inflation. And that increase was on top of an 11.4% increase in food-at-home prices from 2021 to 2022. In 2022, consumers spent the highest share of their disposable income on food (~11%) since the 1980s. In 2023, total combined retail and foodservice food prices were 25% higher than in 2019.
  • Inflation in plant-based meat and seafood tracked with that of overall food. In 2022, plant-based meat and seafood price increases (+7%) were slightly less than conventional meat (+9%) and total food and beverage (+11%). In 2023, plant-based meat and seafood prices increased more (+9%) than conventional meat (+3%), although they were still in line with total food and beverage (+8%).

This table shows that for plant-based meat and seafood both dollar and unit sales decreased from 2022-2023, while for the total food and beverage market total dollar sales increased while unit sales decreased. Overall, average unit prices increased from 2022 for total food and beverage, conventional meat and seafood, and plant-based meat and seafood.

Frozen plant-based meat and seafood in particular has seen outsized price increases compared to the refrigerated subcategory. Given that frozen makes up 68 percent of plant-based meat and seafood sales, total category dollar sales were inflated relative to unit sales (which declined significantly). Sales by weight for the plant-based meat and seafood category tracked closely to unit sales declines, indicating that pack size changes did not have a significant impact on prices or overall purchases.

It’s critical to note that price increases not only play a role in driving dollar sales relative to unit sales but also in influencing consumer decisions at the shelf. For a category like plant-based meat and seafood, which is regularly two to four times more expensive pound for pound compared to conventional meat, grocery inflation poses an added challenge—consumers experiencing a tightening in their wallets are less likely to spring for these premium-priced products. Bringing down prices across the category will play a meaningful role in ensuring regular uptake by consumers. Brands may consider efforts to move towards price parity such as refining and consolidating their flavor formulations, increasing product shelf life, and more fully utilizing their sidestreams to reduce production costs. Looking ahead, an economic environment with less pricing pressure could also be a release valve for the category.

This graphic demonstrates that plant-based categories sit at a significant price premium relative to their conventional counterparts.

Distribution

In recent years, much of the dollar and unit growth in the plant-based meat and seafood category could be attributed to distribution gains. New products and brands were hitting the shelves for the first time, and early success led to expanded distribution into major retailers nationwide. This, however, shifted in 2023.

  • Distribution declined in 2023 after multiple years of expansion, which had been a major contributor to category growth. After peaking in 2022, distribution points fell 7% in 2023. The frozen segment was the primary driver of distribution losses in 2023.
  • Store sets must do more with less. Distribution declines mean that fewer products are responsible for the sales volume of the entire category. Just as distribution growth can be a boon to an industry, distribution losses and assortment shrinkages can hinder growth. That said, shelf consolidation can also be an opportunity for brands that can maintain shelf space—if their products are good enough to earn repeat purchases.
  • Innovation continues to influence what’s on the shelf. Despite overall distribution losses in 2023, the category continued to see new brands, flavors, and product formats (such as steaks, filets, and cutlets) come to market. While reducing category assortment in retail stores surely contributes to sales declines in the short term, optimizing assortments such that only the best products remain on the shelf could help direct consumers to products that best meet their needs. This could help build a more solid foundation for repeat purchases in the long term.

Velocity

Velocity—dollar or unit sales per point of distribution—is a metric for how effectively products are turning at shelf. Unit velocity can reveal how consumers are changing their rate of purchase.

  • Velocity declines drove overall volume declines in the plant-based meat and seafood category. Unit velocity declined 14% in 2023. Dollar velocity declined 6%—that relatively lower rate of decline was driven by price increases in the category.
  • The refrigerated aisle drove the greatest decline in velocity. This is distinct from the frozen segment, where declines were driven by distribution declines. One hypothesis here is that consumers shifted their purchases away from refrigerated products for the longer shelf life and sometimes better price point of frozen products.

It’s clear that declines in the plant-based meat and seafood category were influenced by all three of the primary sales drivers—changes in price, distribution, and velocity. While dollar sales were somewhat buffered by price increases, unit sales were pushed down, with inflation, distribution declines, and velocity declines leading to overall volume losses. We know (see consumer insights section below) that the main drivers lapsed consumers report for not trying plant-based meat again are taste, texture, and a preference for animal meat. 

Despite these challenging sales trends, there are clear opportunities that remain for this category to rebound and grow into the future, particularly by focusing on improving taste and price.

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Consumer dynamics influencing sales performance

One contributor to sales declines in the plant-based meat and seafood category was that several households that had previously purchased in the category did not do so in 2023, with major reported barriers being taste and price. Re-engaging lapsed consumers while reaching new ones—by improving taste and texture, improving affordability, and emphasizing the value proposition that plant-based meat offers consumers—will be crucial to the future success of the category.

Household penetration and repeat rates

Household penetration rates have fallen relatively significantly for the plant-based meat and seafood category since reaching a high of 20 percent in 2021. This seems to be driven by declines in both refrigerated and frozen segments. Meanwhile, repeat rates for households purchasing in the category have remained relatively stable over the last four years.

  • Some households did not purchase in the category in 2023 despite having done so in 2022, but most are open to repurchasing in the future. Lapsed shoppers play a meaningful role in category declines and emphasize the need for products to meet consumer expectations across characteristics, namely taste and price. Notably, a consumer poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of GFI in December 2023 found that frequent users are significantly more likely than lapsed users to describe plant-based meat as tasty, healthy, nutritious, affordable, and easy to find. When asked what would convince them to purchase a new plant-based meat product, 77% of lapsed users said they would purchase for at least one of the tested reasons, with the most common being if products exactly matched the taste and texture of conventional meat (49%), and if they cost less than conventional meat (43%). This suggests that many users will revisit the plant-based meat category as products continue to improve and if companies can achieve more competitive pricing.
  • Households loyal to the category appear to be maintaining similar rates of repeat purchases as in previous years. While the percentage of households purchasing in the category has dropped considerably in recent years, the rate at which purchasing households buy more than one time in the category has remained relatively consistent.

Increasers, decreasers, and maintainers

A significant number of households that had previously purchased in the category did not do so in 2023, which indicates that consumer needs and expectations are not being met. As covered in other sections, the core product benefits that consumers say would re-engage them in the category are tasting more similar to conventional meat and affordability to match conventional meat. 

Notably, households that decreased their purchasing from 2022 to 2023 (but are still purchasing in the category) showed relatively high engagement in 2022 before seeing that engagement fall in 2023. Increaser households tend to be heavily engaged shoppers—increasing off of more modest engagement in 2022. 

It’s clear there is a significant amount of variance in household engagement in the category. The engagement opportunities here are significant. New buyers represent a quarter of all buyers in 2023, indicating a large amount of experimentation. Purchase volume is not very consistent among households, indicating continued opportunities to build habits and loyalty. Far more buyers increased or decreased their purchases in the category compared to holding them relatively steady, demonstrating that patterns are not set in stone, and thus positioned to be influenced.

A meaningful group of households—five million—joined in 2023 and a third of those already purchasing—another five million—increased their rate of purchase. Retaining and growing engagement with these shoppers is a large opportunity for the category.

Consumer insights

In 2023, 15 percent of U.S. households purchased in the plant-based meat and seafood category. While this is not an insignificant amount of engagement, it is significantly less than the plant-based milk category, which boasted 44 percent household penetration, and of course is much less than the conventional meat category, which boasted 97 percent household penetration. A December 2023 survey of U.S. adults conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of GFI shows that significant opportunities remain to reach more consumers:

  • 53% of U.S. consumers are either not familiar or not too familiar with plant-based meat.
  • Half (51%) of U.S. adults report having never tried plant-based meat and another 18% say they eat it infrequently, a few times a year or less.
  • This means that approximately 7 in 10 U.S. adults have either never tried plant-based meat or have eaten it no more than a few times.

The opportunity to drive greater awareness, trial, and uptake is clear—to make the most of those future opportunities, it will be critical for products to deliver on meeting consumer needs in those initial experiences.

For U.S. adults who have tried plant-based meat just once, the top reasons they reported not consuming again included dissatisfaction regarding taste and texture.

This chart shows that taste is the top barrier stopping consumers from returning to purchasing plant-based meat products.

Similarly, for respondents who had never tried plant-based meat, the primary reasons they reported not doing so were a preference for animal meat and a perception that the products would not taste good.

This chart shows that a preference for animal meat and a perception that plant-based meat will taste bad are the top reasons why consumers don’t try plant-based meat products.

From a more recent December survey conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of GFI, lapsed plant-based meat alternative users are significantly less likely than frequent users to describe plant-based meat as very tasty. 

These findings demonstrate the challenges the plant-based meat market faces in meeting the needs of consumers who are open to trying the products. It’s clear that there’s an opportunity for the category to better deliver on taste and texture parity with conventional meat, as well as more strongly establish the value proposition of swapping out a conventional meat product with a plant-based meat product. To the extent that that switching proposition is health, it’s also clear that there are some health perceptions (processedness, number of ingredients, protein content) that can be addressed with certain consumer groups.

To bring in new consumers and new households while improving repeat purchase rates for current shoppers, meeting consumer needs on taste, price, and other product characteristics will be crucial.

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U.S. foodservice and global sales highlights

The state of plant-based meat and seafood goes beyond just the retail channel and the U.S. market. In U.S. foodservice, broadline distributor sales of plant-based proteins remained relatively flat to 2022 levels, marking the sector’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Notably, plant-based meat alternatives meant to replicate the taste, texture, and eating experience of conventional meat made up 50 percent of total category pound sales in 2023. Globally, Euromonitor estimates the plant-based meat and seafood retail category was worth more than six billion in 2023.

Foodservice

In the U.S. foodservice sector, plant-based proteins, which include analog products like plant-based burgers, patties, and nuggets, as well as veggie-forward items like bean burgers, tofu, and tempeh, were, in total, worth $306 million in broadline distributor sales directly to operators in 2023.

These two line graphs show that in the plant-based proteins market, dollar and pound sales in u. S. Broadline distributor foodservice declined slightly from 2022 to 2023 after increasing from 2020 to 2022.

In 2023, plant-based protein dollar sales fell one percent and pound sales declined three percent. This is compared to conventional meat which saw dollar sales drop three percent and pound sales rise four percent and total food and beverage that grew both dollar and pound sales four percent in 2023.

The foodservice sector as a whole experienced unprecedented declines in 2020 as consumers turned to retail environments for their food purchases and restaurant activity remained minimal during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Since then, sales have rebounded. For plant-based proteins, dollar sales in 2023 were six percent higher than in 2019 while pound sales were three percent lower compared to 2019 highs. This is compared to total food which experienced a 28 percent increase in dollar sales from 2019 to 2023 and just one percent growth in pound sales. 

This plant-based protein category is composed of:

  • Plant-based meat and seafood products that are meant to replicate the taste, texture, and experience of conventional meat. These products saw their pound share of plant-based proteins in foodservice rise from 39% in 2019 to 50% in 2023. From 2019 to 2023, plant-based meat and seafood pound sales grew 24%.
  • Tofu and tempeh. Pound sales of tofu and tempeh increased slightly by 1% from 2019 to 2023. That said, tofu and tempeh still made up 32% of pound sales for total plant-based proteins in 2023.
  • Grain/nut/veggie items such as black bean burgers. From 2019 to 2023, grain/nut/veggie item pound sales declined 44%. They made up 17% of total plant-based proteins in 2023.

A bar graph showing that from 2019 to 2023 plant-based meat analogs have taken an increasing market share of plant-based protein pound sales.

Global retail sales

For a global perspective, Euromonitor estimates that plant-based meat and seafood retail sales (excluding tofu and tempeh) were $6.4 billion in 2023. More than 50 percent of dollar sales in the last 15 years came in the last five, from 2019 to 2023.

This line graph shows euromonitor global retail dollar sales estimates for plant-based meat and seafood have increased significantly over the last 15 years reaching an estimated $6. 4 billion in 2023.

In 2023, Euromonitor estimates Europe and North America made up nearly 85 percent of total retail sales while other regions like Latin America, APAC, the Middle East, and Africa remain relatively small, emerging markets for the category. For these regions, growth and expansion of the category is often attributed to early distribution growth while larger markets, including Europe and North America, have experienced a more complex environment in recent years.

This bar graph shows that europe and north america have much larger plant-based and seafood retail dollar sales compared to latin america, apac, and the middle east and africa. Europe is the region with the most sales at an estimated $3. 3 billion in 2023.

For regional deep dives and insights on trends around the world in plant-based meat and seafood, check out the following resources:

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Emerging areas and opportunities

The plant-based meat and seafood category in the U.S. has faced some challenges in recent years, yet opportunities in product innovation and consumer engagement have the potential to return the category to sustained growth.

Positive indications of consumer interest and desire 

Despite recent challenges, there are several signals of strong consumer interest in plant-based meat and seafood.

  • Many consumers are looking to reduce meat consumption. According to a poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of GFI in December 2023, 59% claim to consider the negative health effects of meat consumption when choosing whether to eat it, and a majority consider the treatment of animals, use of antibiotics, and risk of foodborne illness in their decision.  FMI’s 2023 Power of Meat report found that 33% of U.S. adults who eat meat and poultry are actively trying to reduce their intake. But this is very aspirational:  97% of U.S. households purchase conventional meat, and GFI and Morning Consult found that only 10% of consumers reported eating less meat in 2023. This dynamic signals that a significant share of consumers are looking to reduce meat consumption—but only if the products they are swapping in can meet their needs. Consumers’ self-identified interest in alternative proteins thus remains a tailwind for the alternative protein industry.
  • Demographic trends are favorable for plant-based meat and seafood. Globally, younger consumers aged 16-40 are expected to make up 69% of global spending by 2040. 66% of these consumers say they plan to spend more on plant-based meat and dairy in the future. In the August 2023 survey conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of GFI, 45% of Millennials reported having a very or somewhat favorable impression of plant-based meat products, compared to 31% of total U.S. adults. This is consistent with findings from Datassential that Millennials are more likely than the general population to report being open to plant-forward or flexitarian eating
  • Taste and price are major barriers that if improved, will attract consumers. Finally, as mentioned previously, the primary barriers holding consumers back from purchasing plant-based meat and seafood products are taste and price. Among consumers who have eaten plant-based meat previously but not in the past year, 49% say they would repurchase if a plant-based meat product had the exact taste and texture of conventional meat, and 46% say they would repurchase if it cost less than conventional meat (survey conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of GFI, December 2023). With continued private and public investment, research and development, and product innovation, the plant-based meat industry can overcome these barriers to unlock greater potential in this category.

A recent NielsenIQ Migration study commissioned by GFI found that if sales from medium-engaged plant-based meat and seafood purchasing households matched their category purchases to the top-engaged households, the plant-based meat and seafood category would grow by an estimated 70 percent.

Plant-based meat and seafood’s reach thus far is limited, but if companies can continue to innovate on taste, improve pricing, and deepen their penetration among flexitarian and young adults coming into their purchasing power, the category could capture substantially more consumers.

Product renovation and innovation

Continuing to invest in innovation activity, product development, and product renovation can ensure that more and better products reach consumers who are looking for options that match the taste, texture, and experience of conventional meat. Some examples of focus areas include:

  • Reformulating products to achieve better flavor intensities and authentic meat flavor profiles.
  • Ensuring products have a low background flavor that does not distort subtler conventional meat, poultry, and seafood flavors.
  • Accurately representing textures and ensuring they have the right balance of softness vs. hardness, mouthfeel, and authentic bite-down.
  • Base protein ingredient research and experimentation. Currently, the vast majority of plant-based meat and seafood products leverage just a handful of plant protein bases such as soy, pea, and wheat. Additional research into other plant-protein bases could lead to better-optimized ingredients and improved product performance. 
  • Alternative fats. Innovative plant-based fat ingredients or cultivated or fermentation-enabled fats could help to advance the aroma, juiciness, tenderness, and overall mouthfeel of plant-based meat and seafood products.
  • Health benefits. Some consumers may be interested in product renovations that—without sacrificing taste—deliver cleaner ingredient labels and improved health and nutrition benefits.

Hybrid products and other platforms

Increasingly, hybrid products are coming to market that combine ingredients from across alternative protein production platforms. An example of this is the Impossible Burger. Impossible Foods incorporates soy leghemoglobin produced via precision fermentation into their plant-based burger to give the finished product a meaty taste and appearance. Another example is Nurishh cream cheese, which contains plant-based ingredients as well as animal-free whey protein produced via precision fermentation from Perfect Day.

Hybrid products have the potential to leverage the best components of plant-based, fermentation, and cultivated technologies to improve taste, texture, and/or cost. The relative affordability of plant-based products makes them particularly suitable to combine with the functionality of fermentation-derived or cultivated ingredients.

This graphic shows how ingredients across alternative protein platforms can be combined to create hybrid products.

One example on the horizon is using cultivated fat as an ingredient in otherwise plant-based products. Mission Barns, for example, mixes plant proteins with cultivated pork fat to produce meatballs, bacon, and sausages. While such products are not yet for sale in the U.S., given recent FDA green lights and the potential submissions in the pipeline, there could be such products on the way.

Finally, some companies, such as Perdue and Tyson, have launched blended animal-based and plant-based products. One clear value proposition for this product type is supporting parents who want to incorporate more vegetables into their children’s meals while still providing a familiar product (like nuggets) that children find appealing. GFI’s State of the Industry Report on plant-based meat, eggs, seafood, and dairy has further coverage of the development of products in this category.

Building toward price parity

In the current economic environment, affordability looms large for consumers. At the start of 2023, 67 percent of U.S. consumers were very concerned about grocery inflation, according to Morning Consult. To compete with conventional products and lower the barriers to entry and adoption, alternative proteins must achieve levels of affordability that unlock the largest market of consumers—meat-eaters. Today, plant-based meat and seafood is sold at a significant price premium compared to conventional meat:

This graphic demonstrates that plant-based categories sit at a significant price premium relative to their conventional counterparts.

Overcoming these premiums will require public and private investments to scale up plant-based meat and seafood production, reduce the costs of goods and services, and, ultimately, reach consumers who cannot afford to sacrifice on value. Indeed, among consumers who have eaten plant-based meat previously but not in the past year, 43 percent say they would repurchase if it cost less than conventional meat (survey conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of GFI, December 2023).

Marketing and positioning

While plant-based meat continues to appeal to a loyal core of users, plant-based milk serves as a powerful example of the mass-market appeal that plant-based foods can achieve through product innovation and effective marketing:

  • According to SPINS data analyzed by GFI and the Plant-Based Foods Association, plant-based milk had 15% market share of the total U.S. milk market in 2023. 
  • Almost half of American households now purchase plant-based milk: an estimated 44 purchased in 2023.
  • In many grocery stores, plant-based milk options make up a third of all the doors in the milk aisle.

Plant-based milk has likely succeeded for a variety of reasons, many of which are applicable to the plant-based meat category:

  • The right benefits: A 2023 survey by Morning Consult shared by The Food Institute found that 55% of plant-based milk consumers choose it because of taste, and 52% because of health, suggesting that plant-based milks are delivering on core reasons that consumers seek out plant-based foods; these are also core perceived benefits of plant-based meat, and ones that many consumers do not yet associate as strongly with plant-based meat as they do with plant-based milk.
  • Labeling and positioning: Plant-based milk can be made with and marketed on a wide variety of ingredients (almond, oat, soy, hemp, etc.), to be sold in a variety of formats (shelf-stable, single-serving, etc.), and positioned for specific benefits and use cases (e.g., Muscle Milk’s plant-protein shakes, Oatly’s Barista Blend). While many plant-based meats have also pushed the envelope on innovation—with new health-focused offerings, bulk packs, and summer grilling packs on the shelf— these products tend to have been recently released, and many brands have room to diversify and explore new benefits and occasions associated with meat consumption.

For plant-based meat and seafood to capture a similar share, products need to deliver on the many animal types, formats, and use cases offered by conventional meat products to ensure substitutability.  Implementing marketing strategies—like those outlined in a 2023 BCG report—to appeal to meat-eating consumers, not just vegans and vegetarians, can increase household penetration and drive sales of plant-based products across categories.

To do so, companies need to:

  • Understand consumer attitudes and usage.
  • Identify and understand their target consumers.
  • Emphasize taste, texture, and other important plant-based food attributes.
  • Market and deliver on the value propositions that will generate consumer interest and trial in the category.
  • Leverage the benefits of plant-forward category language versus terms like “vegan” and “vegetarian.”
  • Deploy best practices in shopper marketing.
Future outlook icon

Future outlook

The plant-based meat and seafood category in the U.S. has faced some challenges in recent years, yet opportunities in product innovation and consumer engagement have the potential to return the category to sustained growth.

The future success of the plant-based meat sector is not inevitable—yet. The current challenges are clear, solvable, market challenges. Through continued product innovation, increased public and private investment, and market-wide efforts to better reach consumers, plant-based meat can overcome these barriers and transition from niche to norm. 
  
Compared to conventional meat, plant-based meat and seafood provide a variety of aspirational benefits—environmental benefits like reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and land and water use, public health benefits like lower antibiotic use, and personal health benefits like consuming more plants, more fiber, and less cholesterol. Younger generations report valuing these drivers even more than the general population does, indicating a market opportunity as they come into their buying power. While such aspirational drivers have contributed to record activity in the plant-based meat and seafood category in the last decade, in 2023, inflationary pressures, price premiums, and difficulties in meeting consumer needs contributed to a decrease in U.S. retail sales. The switching cost for consumers is still too high.

Yet this setback is against a backdrop of significant potential and strong consumer tailwinds. Currently, taste and price performance limit the category’s engagement with meat-eaters. U.S. consumers say they’d be more willing to eat plant-based meat and seafood if it tasted better, was more affordable, and was a better-value product. The industry can overcome these issues with increased R&D, product development and renovation, and improved marketing and consumer education to emphasize product benefits. If the products can taste as good or better and cost the same or less compared to conventional products, consumers will have a lower barrier to entry for acting upon aspirational benefits, and the vast market potential could be unlocked.

Many agents of change can spur this industry forward. Companies can lead by increasing investment in R&D to deliver tasty, affordable products that appeal to mainstream meat-eaters interested in eating plant-based foods. The research community can lead by encouraging more scientists, from diverse disciplines and tenures, to jump into the alternative protein field and by providing open-access research to advance the entire sector. Governments can lead by funding critical R&D to advance the science, providing manufacturing incentives to support scale-up, and supporting regulations that provide a level playing field to allow plant-based meat and seafood to compete on taste, price, and convenience. Doing so can address the industry’s biggest sensory and technical challenges, inspire additional research, create new growth opportunities, and ensure the plant-based meat and seafood category benefits everyone at the table.

Meet the authors

Ben pierce

Ben Pierce

SENIOR MARKET RESEARCH ANALYST

Ben supports GFI’s Corporate Engagement team as a Research Analyst, working to develop data-driven insights within the alternative protein industry.

Areas of expertise: CPG sales/marketing, market trends, consumer & category insights, data analysis, project management

Image of emma ignaszewski

Emma Ignaszewski

ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, INDUSTRY INTELLIGENCE & INITIATIVES

Emma Ignaszewski oversees the corporate engagement team’s industry intelligence and initiatives to catalyze corporate innovation that will radically transform the food system and deliver alternative protein products that compete on the key drivers of consumer choice: taste, price, and convenience.

Areas of expertise: alternative protein market landscape, research & analysis, strategy, marketing & communications, alt protein sustainability & climate impacts.

Daniel gertner

Daniel Gertner

BUSINESS ANALYST

Daniel identifies market opportunities and analyzes the alternative protein industry landscape.

Areas of expertise: research and analysis, economics

Taylor leet-otley

Taylor Leet-Otley

CONSUMER RESEARCH LEAD

Taylor Leet-Otley oversees GFI’s consumer research, keeping the organization and the industry in touch with consumers’ needs & beliefs in the fast-moving alternative protein category.

Areas of Expertise: Consumer insights, market strategy, branding & marketing

Related resources

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