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Plant-Based Growth Continues

Specialty Food Association

Roughly one in five consumers indicate wanting more plant-based foods in their diet, according to research from The NPD Group, which recently merged with IRI. The company also found that about 25 million consumers eat plant-based foods and beverages either occasionally or regularly.

In restaurants, the NPD Group found that consumers eat more plant-based meat, poultry, and seafood because these foods are prepared in the same way animal protein menu items are, meaning consumers don’t sacrifice taste for the believed healthier option.

At retail, oat milk alternatives sales were up 22 percent in the 52 weeks ending January 1, 2023, compared to a year ago, according to IRI. This gain helped to offset a 3 percent decline in overall milk alternative categories with the biggest declines in almond and coconut milk. Volume sales of meat alternatives in the frozen aisle were down 3 percent from a year ago, with lunchmeat, meatball, and breakfast sausage alternatives the top decliners. Wing and nugget alternative sales, however, grew during this time.

"Retail is likely in a transition period, following fast expansion before and during the pandemic. As consumers are returning to their pre-pandemic habits and living with high inflationary prices, we are seeing slower velocity rates and a higher number of lost buyers than new buyers," Chris Dubois, EVP, Americas protein practice leader at IRI, in a statement. "As long as the big plant-based companies continue to deliver taste, texture, and innovations while working toward price parity with other protein options, the category can thrive, especially in the frozen case where the strength and base are consistent."

In foodservice, plant-based foods are experiencing rapid growth. Pound sales of chicken and fish alternatives shipped from broadline foodservice distributors increased by 38 percent and 5 percent, respectively, in the 12 months ending December compared to a year ago. Grain alternative pizza crusts, like cauliflower crust, grew broadline foodservice pound sales by 35 percent over the same period.

"Chefs and foodservice operators see the plant-based protein category as a versatile option to serve a greater diversity of guests," said Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage industry analyst, in a statement. "Plant-based provides the options to create center-of-plate recipes that delight guests and bring them back for more."

NPD forecasts dairy and meat alternatives to grow through 2024, driven almost entirely by Millennials and Gen Zs, who choose these products because of their interest in sustainability, animal welfare, and better health.

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