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Meat alternatives continue to see strong sales

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Refrigerated plant-based meat alternatives have outpaced frozen counterparts in dollar and volume growth.

Similar to robust retail meat sales, plant-based meat alternatives have seen increased sales this year -- a trend that 210 Analytics president Anne-Marie Roerink said started long before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

IRI and 210 Analytics partnered to understand the total effect for frozen and fresh meat alternatives since the onset of COVID-19-related grocery shopping patterns in early March. Roerink explained that gains are derived from a relatively small base, which are a fraction of the size of frozen and fresh meat sales. As such, she said growth rates are just one part of a bigger story in the red-hot protein market that includes meat, seafood and plant-based meat alternatives.

What they found was that meat alternative sales (fresh plus frozen) rose sharply during the two panic buying weeks in March, along with the rest of the store. Dollar gains peaked at a 152% increase and volume at a 135% increase compared their 2019 levels. Subsequently, dollar gains have been trending:

  • Between 50% and 60% above year ago for much of April, May and June;
  • Between 40% and 50% ahead of 2019 levels in July and August, and
  • Between 30% and 40% in September and the early part of October.

While volume sales growth has trailed dollar gains throughout the pandemic, Roerink said the gap between the two is narrowing. For the week of Oct. 4, volume gains exceeded last year’s levels by 29%.

Frozen plant-based meat alternatives represent the majority share of total sales, at about 65% of total plant-based meat alternative sales. During the week ending Oct. 4, frozen plant-based meat alternatives generated $13.0 million in sales versus $7.0 million for refrigerated plant-based meat alternatives. For comparative purposes, meat generated $1.3 billion in sales during this same week.

Still, Roerink pointed out that throughout the pandemic and even before the onset, refrigerated plant-based meat alternatives have outpaced their frozen counterparts in dollar and volume growth. Refrigerated meat alternatives reached a high of a 258% increase during the first of the two panic-buying weeks. After many weeks of triple-digit growth, gains have tapered off to 60-90% in more recent weeks. Roerink said frozen plant-based alternatives are more established and did not quite see the same high rates generated by fresh product. Gains peaked at a 116% increase in mid-March and have been very steady between May and October at 20-30% versus year ago.

Meat versus meat alternative sales

Despite robust sales gains each week, Roerink said refrigerated meat alternative dollar sales remained a fraction of meat department sales. In September, meat sales totaled $5.2 billion, while refrigerated plant-based meat alternatives generated $32.2 million, and frozen and refrigerated alternatives combined generated $85.5 million.

Since the onset of the pandemic-related changes in grocery patterns, the meat department has generated an additional $9.6 billion in sales versus an additional $127 million for refrigerated plant-based meat alternatives. An additional volume of 1.6 billion lb. of meat and poultry was sold between March 15 and Oct. 4 compared with 2019 versus an additional 15.2 million lb. of refrigerated plant-based meat alternatives.

Because of these absolute dollar gain differences, the share of refrigerated plant-based meat alternatives as a percentage of the total (meat department sales plus refrigerated plant-based meat alternative sales) actually dipped in March and April, Roerink noted.

In August and September, the share of sales for refrigerated meat alternatives averaged 0.58%. With the volume share unchanged, it is the higher inflationary levels that are driving the slight elevation in share in August and September. 

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