What began as the addition of burger alternatives to grocery shelves and menus is now a full-blown phenomenon."
Plant-based foods have been one of the fastest-growing food trends over the past several years, both in retail and foodservice, and all indicators point to them becoming even more mainstream.
Global retail sales of plant-based food alternatives could reach $162 billion by 2030 — up from $29.4 billion in 2020, according to a Bloomberg Intelligence report.
In the U.S., what began as the addition of burger alternatives to grocery shelves and menus is now a full-blown phenomenon. From plant-based sausage and eggs, walnut chorizo and oat milk to new milk alternatives made from potatoes, plant-based seafood and pizza toppings, meat and dairy alternatives are now found on all segments of the plate, during every daypart.
Plant-based foods are increasingly enjoyed by carnivores and flexitarians, as 57% of U.S. households purchased plant-based food in 2020, up 4% from the year before, according a report by Good Food Institute (GFI) and Plant Based Foods Association based on SPINS data. Menu mentions of meat alternatives have increased +1,320% since before the pandemic, according to Tastewise, which reports most consumers are choosing these items for wellness benefits and, increasingly, for sustainability and planetary health reasons.
Shoppers and diners are quickly finding more options to choose from as companies and investors fund new technology to better match the taste and texture of animal protein. A recent example: Food biotech company Plantible raised $21.5 million in September 2021 to make its proprietary Rubi Protein from lemna, more commonly known as duckweed.
The food industry is capitalizing on product innovations as grocery stores merchandise plant-based proteins next to traditional meats and national restaurant chains and independents increase their offerings. An October 2021 Cleveland Research Company survey of 100 independent restaurant operators found that 42% now offer plant-based items on their menus and, of those, have devoted 20% of the menu to plant-based alternatives. Adding plant-based proteins and dairy items to a restaurant’s menu attracts new (often younger) customers, increases average check size and can influence group dining decisions, according to GFI.
Milk alternatives, valued at $2.5 billion in the GFI report and growing by double digits each year, make up the largest, most developed segment of the market and account for 15% of all in-store milk sales. Other plant-based dairy is on the rise too, with plant-based yogurt growing nearly seven times the rate of conventional yogurt and plant-based cheese up 42% in 2020, almost double that of conventional cheese.
In foodservice, there has been continued adoption of milk alternatives, especially at coffee shops. Oat milk has grown its presence on U.S. menus by more than 1,300% over the past four years, according to Datassential, with 29% of consumers having tried it.
From hybrid products that combine vegetables with meat found in frozen food aisles to plant-based entrees in fine dining to advancements in fermentation technology to create whey protein made without animals, we expect even more innovation in this space in 2022 and the continued growth of plant-based sources of food and drinks.