Sales data shows that many shoppers—regardless of diet restrictions—are opting for plant-based foods nowadays.

Zee Krstic
August 07, 2018

A new report from Nielsen and the Plant Based Foods Association illustrates a 20-percent rise in sales of plant-based foods over the last year. According to the report, more than $3.1 billion worth of vegetarian and vegan items were sold in 2017. Each product within this market experienced growth—including plant-based milks, cheeses, and faux meats—while cow's milk experienced diminishing sales, Bloomberg reports.

You probably won't be surprised to hear that non-dairy milks (a category that has seen many new varieties successfully launch this year) are the biggest cash cow of plant-based foods—alternative milks brought in $1.6 billion in sales in 2017 alone. Plant-based creamers enjoyed a 131 percent boost, with $109 million in sales, and other dairy replacements items like plant-based cheese (43 percent growth) and yogurts (55 percent growth) both surpassed $120 million in sales in the same time period.

What about plant-based meats, like the better-for-you Beyond Burger? More and more home cooks are shopping for these meat-like alternatives, given that this category surged ahead in sales with $670 million generated, an additional 24 percent growth over the previous year. A more recent report from Nielsen suggests that this number is slated to grow even more this year, as there's been an additional 30 percent growth recorded as of April 2018 alone.

Sales data from the United States Department of Agriculture shows that increased sales could be due to households with diverse dietary preferences among family members—9 out of 10 households in the United States purchased traditional milk as well as a non-dairy alternative in 2017. There's even some data that shows more shoppers are consuming nut milks in addition to traditional dairy products like cheese and cow's milk.

More on new plant-based products that are catching shoppers' attention:

Beyond Meat

Special diets also play a factor in sales growth, forcing home cooks to reevaluate their purchases—even if they do not have food allergies or dietary afflictions in the first place. A newer Nielsen report shows that 37 percent of all Americans are following a targeted diet this year, compared to just 29 percent in 2016.

In spite of popular diets, it seems that Americans are also trying to eat more plant-based foods overall, according to a recent Nielsen survey. But newer products, like 2017's meatless Beyond Burger, are experiencing the most growth. Traditional plant-based diet alternatives, such as tofu, were down by one percent in 2017.

Cooking Light

Items like tofu may be overshadowed by trendier items like the Beyond Burger due to these product's reputation as "better-for-you" replacements of items that are normally not healthy. One 4-ounce burger made with lean chuck contains 80mg of cholesterol and 9g of saturated fat, whereas the Beyond Burger (the one that "bleeds" with beet juice) contains zero cholesterol and only 5g of saturated fat.

“In reducing meat consumption, cholesterol and saturated fat are the biggest two things consumers are looking to avoid,” Will Schafer, vice president of marketing at Beyond Meat, told Bloomberg. “Consumers are looking for something that gives them the experience of meat without downsides. Or, as I like to say, you can have your burger and eat it, too."

Whether consumers are eating plant-based due to dietary restrictions, environmental or moral reasons, or they’re just trying to slim down, Nielsen's data suggests that these products aren't as niche as they once were.

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