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Plant-based meat, milk sales continue to grow

New data shows that higher meat prices and supply chain snarls are pushing consumers toward plant-based products.
plant-based burgers on a table
Photo: Shutterstock

Sales of plant-based foods rose 6.2% year over year, reaching a new peak of $7.4 billion in 2021, according to new data released by the Good Food Institute (GFI), Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) and wellness-focused company SPINS. 

Plant-based meats and milk showed the greatest uptick in retail sales. Almond milk is the leader among the latter, accounting for 59% of the category, but coming in at second place at 17% is oat milk, with sales 44 times higher than they were three years ago. 

Plant-based meat sales continue to go strong, increasing 74% in the past three years and outpacing the growth of conventional meat by almost three times, the data shows. Burgers still lead as the top-selling meat alternative, but plant-based meatballs, deli slices and chicken nuggets, tenders and cutlets are the fastest growing. But the dollar share of plant-based meat is just 1.4% of the total meat sales category. 

The surge in sales is mostly attributed to consumers’ environmental and health concerns, but there are other factors, too, according to the report. Through the course of the pandemic, sales of conventional meat and poultry have been impacted by supply chain disruptions and escalating prices, pushing consumers and operators to seek alternative proteins. 

“The data shows that, despite the challenges of the past two years, retailers and foodservice providers are meeting consumers where they are by partnering with brands across the entire store to expand space, increase assortment, and make it easier than ever to find and purchase plant-based foods,” Julie Emmett, PBFA senior director of retail partnerships, said in a statement. 

While plant-based chicken was a growth leader in 2021, there’s ongoing opportunity for seafood and eggs. Plant-based seafood grew 14% to $14 million in sales, but accounts for just 1% of the plant-based meat market. Plant-based eggs saw a 42% increase in sales, but their share of the total egg market is just 0.6%. 

"Product innovation is critical for plant-based categories to continue to earn a larger share of the market,” GFI’s research and analysis manager Karen Formanski said in a statement. “Getting more consumers to eat plant-based foods more often requires improved taste and texture to compete with animal products, more product diversity, and greater affordability and accessibility.”

In the foodservice arena, the 2022 Food and Beverage Awards, announced last week by the National Restaurant Association Show, recognized a diverse group of plant-based products as winners. Included in the lineup are plant-based pepperoni, meatballs, salmon patties, eggs and frozen desserts.

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