The pandemic has pushed up already rising demand for plant-based substitutes for animal products, a new survey finds.
U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods grew 27% in 2020 to reach $7 billion, according to the annual survey by the Plant Based Foods Association, which represents the nation’s plant-based food industry. Also involved in the survey was the Good Foods Institute, which describes itself as "an international nonprofit reimagining meat production."
The 2020 increase, combined with the 2019 increase, means plant-based food sales have grown 43% in the past two years.
And 57% of all U.S. households bought plant-based foods in 2020, up from 53% in 2019.
Plant-based food sales were rising even before the pandemic: "Consumers’ shift to plant-based foods began pre-pandemic and will continue to propel consumption far into the future. Personal health, sustainability, combined with newer motivations to boost immunity, ensure food safety, and improve animal welfare are all significant drivers of plant-based foods consumption," according to the study.
But the pandemic clearly has contributed to the rising interest. According to research cited by the survey: Of U.S. shoppers who purchased a plant-based product in the past six months, "Thirty percent reported that their consumption was a direct result of COVID, both stemming from a desire to increase consumption of immune-boosting foods and resulting from more time at home to experiment with incorporating plant-based ingredients in their cooking," the report said.
What's more, nearly 90% of shoppers said the changes would be permanent.
Plant-based beverages continues to be a cornerstone of overall plant-based food retail sales. Plant-based beverages — the largest plant-based category — grew 20% in dollar sales in 2020, reaching $2.5 billion and accounting for 35% of the total plant-based foods market.
Sales of dairy categories, including creamer, butter, yogurt, cheese and eggs, rose, too.
Plant-based meat replacement products also saw big sales growth in 2020. Sales during the year rose 45% to reach $1.4 billion, with 2.7% of U.S. meat sales now coming from plant-based meat, the survey found. It found that 18% of U.S. households, or 22 million households, now purchase plant-based meat, up from 14% in 2019.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated the percentage of meat sales attributed to plant-based meats. The error has been corrected.