The move toward plant-based or meat-free eating can sometimes get over hyped. The halo around plant-based food can often get in the way of the small percentage of people that actually eat plant-based foods on a regular basis. And given the coastal footprint of most plant-forward brands, plant-based foods can sound like something just for food bloggers in Brooklyn or San Francisco.
But some new data shows that plant-based proteins are at least nearing an inflection point.
According to a new report from The NPD Group, shipments of plant-based proteins to foodservice operators is up by double digits last year. Shipments of plant-based protein increased by 20 percent in the 12 months prior to November 2018.
“Plant-based proteins are no longer just a meat replacement, it’s now its own category,” said Portalatin in a press release.
The most popular form was, of course, the veggie burger. Burgers are the largest plant-based foodservice category. All the talk of the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger has brought the topic of plant-based food to every foodservice nook and cranny out there.
Only about 6 percent of U.S. consumers identify as vegetarian, so the growth in this segment comes directly from the “plant-friendly” or “protein-agnostic” people that still eat meat, but strive to get more plants into their diet for reasons ranging from animal welfare to environmental concerns or simple health-consciousness.
According to market research firm Nielsen, that cohort has grown to nearly 40 percent of consumers. In a report released in June covering 2017 sales, those consumers aren’t reaching for the tofu or granola. Also according to Nielsen, that group is boosting sales for all manner of plant-based replacements. Veggie noodles saw a 115 percent jump in sales in 2017. And Noodle’s announced at ICR that veggie noodles like their popular zucchini noodles (a.k.a. zoodles) was a “new pillar of the business.”
Plant-based cheese alternatives also saw notable growth in 2017; sales jumped 45 percent in 2017. Plant-based yogurt sales were up 31 percent and sales of meat alternatives rose 30 percent, according Nielsen.
If these trends hold true, 2019 could be a real point of inflection for plant-based proteins. And given the adoption by franchise restaurant concepts, American consumers will have a lot of new plant-based choices.