New data released by the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) and The Good Food Institute (GFI) shows U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods continued to increase by double digits in 2020, growing 27% and bringing the total plant-based market value to $7 billion. This growth in dollar sales was consistent across the nation, with more than 25% growth in every U.S. census region.
The plant-based food market grew almost twice as fast as the total U.S. retail food market, which increased 15% in 2020 as COVID-19 shuttered restaurants and consumers stocked up on food amid lockdowns. Fifty-seven percent of households now purchase plant-based foods, up from 53% in 2019. GFI and PBFA commissioned the data from SPINS and custom refined the data to reflect only plant-based products that directly replace animal-based products.
The value of plant-based meat — the second-largest plant-based category — hit $1.4 billion in 2020, with sales growing 45%, up from $962 million in 2019. The plant-based meat category grew twice as fast as conventional meat and now accounts for 2.7% of retail packaged meat sales. Eighteen percent of U.S. households now purchase plant-based meat, up from 14% in 2019. Consumers are coming back for more — 63% of shoppers are high-repeat customers. Refrigerated plant-based meat sales grew 75% in 2020, with products increasingly shelved adjacent to conventional meat. This placement in the meat section helped propel growth in the segment, with refrigerated plant-based meat sales increasing more than twice as fast as frozen plant-based meat sales, which grew 30% in 2020 — 10 times faster than in 2019.
Plant-based milk — the largest plant-based category — has reached $2.5 billion and accounts for 35% of the total plant-based food market. Even as the most developed category, plant-based milk grew 20% in dollar sales, up from 5% in 2019. Plant-based milk grew twice as fast as cow’s milk and is now purchased by 39% of U.S. households. Almond milk remains the category leader and accounts for about two thirds of plant-based milk dollar sales. Oat milk catapulted to the second-leading segment, ahead of soy milk, with sales more than tripling in 2020 and growing 25-fold since 2018. Plant-based product share of all conventional categories is increasing, with plant-based milk now making up 15% of the milk category, plant-based butter making up 7% of the butter category, and plant-based creamer making up 6% of the creamer category. While plant-based milk boasts a significant share of milk sales in all stores at 15%, it constitutes an even greater share of milk sales in natural food stores at 45%.
The success of plant-based milk has laid the groundwork for major increases in sales of other plant-based dairy products, which are collectively approaching $2 billion. Across the store, plant-based food dollar sales are growing faster than those of many conventional animal products. In 2020, plant-based yogurt grew 20%, almost seven times the rate of conventional yogurt; plant-based cheese grew 42%, almost twice the rate of conventional cheese; and plant-based eggs grew 168%, almost 10 times the rate of conventional eggs. The plant-based egg category grew more than 700% from 2018, 100 times the rate of conventional eggs.
COVID-19 gave retail sales of plant-based foods an extra boost at a time when interest in the sector was already surging, driven by a focus among consumers on personal health, sustainability, food safety, and animal welfare. These factors will continue to propel consumption of plant-based foods far into the future. According to Mintel, 35% of U.S. consumers agree with the statement, “the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic proves that humans need to eat fewer animals.” The market has responded by meeting consumer interests with plant-based claims on-pack rising 116% among U.S. food and drink introductions between 2018 and 2020.
PBFA Senior Director of Retail Partnerships Julie Emmett, commented, “The data tells us unequivocally that we are experiencing a fundamental shift as an ever-growing number of consumers are choosing foods that taste good and boost their health by incorporating plant-based foods into their diet. As this industry surpasses the $7 billion threshold, PBFA is excited to continue our work to help build a sustainable infrastructure, including domestic ingredients sourcing, for this growing demand to expand access to plant-based foods.”
Kyle Gaan, research analyst for GFI, said 2020 was a breakout year for plant-based foods across the store.
“The incredible growth we saw in plant-based foods overall, particularly plant-based meat, surpassed our expectations and is a clear sign of where consumer appetites are heading,” said Gaan. “Almost 40% of households now have plant-based milk in their fridge, and at this rate, it won’t be long until we see just as many households purchasing plant-based meat.”