Plant-based foods sales experience 8.1 percent growth over past year

The data showed that plant-based dairy alternatives are a fast-growing category, with 20 percent growth, topping $700 million in sales over the past year.

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The Plant Based Foods Association and The Good Food Institute released new data commissioned from Nielsen, a retail sales research company, which shows the total market for the plant-based food sector in Nielsen’s Expanded All Outlets Combined Channel tops $3.1 billion in sales. The data scans all outlets, which include grocery stores, drug stores, mass merchandisers, club stores, dollar stores, and military stores, plus Whole Foods.

According to the data, the growth overall in plant-based foods was 8.1 percent since last year, as compared to a decline of 0.2 percent all foods sold in the same channel. (All food departments include deli, grocery, dairy, meat, produce, bakery, frozen foods.) This custom data set was compiled from specific lists of plant-based foods for each category that represents a replacement for animal products. 

The data showed that plant-based dairy alternatives are a fast-growing category, with 20 percent growth, topping $700 million in sales over the past year. This category, which excludes milks, includes plant-based cheeses, yogurts, and ice creams. Yogurt shows significant growth, at 56 percent since last year, according to the data. The plant-based milk category is up 3.1 percent since last year. Over the same period, according to the Nielsen data, cow’s milk sales are down about 5 percent. 

These findings come as a bill has been introduced in Congress that would prohibit plant-based food makers from using words such as “milk,” “cheese,” or “yogurt,” even with appropriate modifiers such as “soy”, “almond” and “dairy-free”.

The results also showed plant-based meats growing at 6 percent compared to a year ago. Refrigerated meats are growing more than frozen, according to the data, at 23 percent since last year. Plant-based meat claims 2.1 percent of sales in refrigerated and frozen meat products sold at retail, as defined by the Nielsen data set. Plant-based milk comprises 9.3 percent of milk sales. 

Nielsen analyzed data in several categories over a 52-week period ending August 12, 2017. The data represents foods that replace animal products, including meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy, as well as meals that contain animal foods replacements.

The Plant Based Foods Association is a trade association representing 80 of the nation’s leading plant-based food companies. 

The Good Food Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that uses markets and food technology to transition the global food system away from industrial animal agriculture. 

Methodology: 
The data represents plant-based foods that directly replace animal products, including meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy, as well as meals that contain direct replacements for these animal products. Within each category, both branded products and private labeled items were included. The market was segmented into the following categories: 

1) Tofu and tempeh 
2) Meat alternatives 
3) Milk alternatives 
4) Other dairy alternatives: 

  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Ice Cream, novelty, and frozen desserts
  • Butter*
  • Dips, dressings, and sour cream
  • Iced coffee
  • Creamers

5) Egg substitutes and mayo 
6) Meals

*Butter alternatives were defined as vegan products marketed using the terms “butter,” “buttery spread,” or “vegan spread.” Margarines that are not specifically marketed to function as butter replacements were not included.

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