We’ve known for a while now that the current spikes and surges in demand for plant-based protein are in large part because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on our food system. Now there are some new numbers that back those claims up and give insights into just how big plant-based products have gotten in the food retail sector, thanks to the Good Food Institute (GFI).
GFI’s new report, “Plant-Based Strategies for Retail: An overview of leading plant-based assortment, merchandising, and marketing tactics at top U.S. retailers,” lays out some of the growth statistics of the plant-based meat sector, and examines the forces driving such a rapid adoption in the retail space.
For context, the report notes that U.S. retail sales of plant-based food were worth $5 billion in 2019. While we don’t yet have the full sales numbers for 2020, GFI notes in its report that “plant-based sales are growing 14 times faster than total food sales” and that consumers who buy plant-based food products tend to spend more: 61 percent of plant-based food shoppers are considered “valuable,” and spend 61 percent more than the average shopper.
All of those numbers are pre-pandemic, which means this time next year, figures will likely be even higher. It’s an understatement to say the pandemic has had a major impact on plant-based meats. According to GFI’s report, nearly one quarter of consumers surveyed report eating more plant-based meals because of COVID-19, with Millennials and Gen Z being the largest age group in this percentage. Both groups (41 percent for Gen Z and 37 percent for Millennials) reported they “will be less likely to buy [traditional] meat” because of COVID-19 fears, compared to 25 percent for all age groups. The report cites health concerns (physical and mental), an intent to buy more health-related items, and general fears around the spread of COVID-19 as plausible reasons for this uptick.
Meat alternatives, in particular, saw positive increases. GFI’s report outlines some figures from some of the major plant-based meat companies:
- Beyond’s retail sales increased 194.4 percent over the second quarter of 2020; the company currently has products in roughly 25,000 retail stores across the U.S.
- Impossible saw a 500 percent increase in grocery stores selling the Impossible Burger during the pandemic months, and the company’s products are available in 9,200 stores nationwide.
- Morning Star farms saw a 66 percent increase in March sales.
- Gardein sales increased by 65 percent from March 13 to April 19, 2020.
- Tofurky sales increased 40 percent from February through April of 2020.
It’s likely the plant-based foods sector would have seen these high numbers even without the pandemic — only over a much longer timeframe. For example, Impossible would probably have reached that 500 percent increase in grocery retailers eventually, but it likely would not have happened in a matter of a few short months had there been no pandemic.
Exactly how long it would have taken sans pandemic we’ll never know, but regardless, sales of plant-based foods aren’t going to subside once COVID-19 does. As GFI’s report notes, this demand for plant-based foods “is a consumer shift, not a fad.”
That in turn means we’ll see more food retailers (and restaurants) selling these products, more alt-protein companies setting up direct-to-consumer e-commerce stores like those of Beyond and Impossible, more food tech accelerators dedicated to alt-protein, and, of course, far more investment in the coming months.