What's the size of the 'plant-based' food and beverage prize?

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Kite Hill recently snagged an $18m cash injection to fuel the expansion of its almond-based dairy alternative business
Kite Hill recently snagged an $18m cash injection to fuel the expansion of its almond-based dairy alternative business
US retail sales of plant-based foods & beverages grew 3.4% to $4.9bn in the year to June 12, 2016, with particularly strong growth in cheese alternatives and refrigerated nut milks, according to new data from SPINS.

As scores of products from cereals to fresh produce are technically ‘plant-based,’ SPINS defines the category as covering products formulated as alternatives to animal-based foods and beverages, such as meat alternatives, non-dairy beverages, cheese alternatives, and tofu (meatless jerky, vegan mayo and other products are not​ included in the $4.9bn figure below).

Easily the biggest category within this $4.9bn market is refrigerated non-dairy beverages (eg. soy, almond/pecan/walnut/cashew, coconut, rice, pea, & hemp ‘milks’), which accounts for 67% of sales, followed by shelf-stable non-dairy beverages (17% of sales) and frozen meat-alternatives (10% of sales). Finally, refrigerated meat alternatives, cheese alternatives and tofu each account for around 2% of category sales.

In the 52 weeks to June 12:

  • Tofu: +6.6% 
  • Cheese alternatives: +11%
  • Refrigerated meat alternatives: +8% 
  • Frozen meat alternatives: +2.7% 
  • Shelf-stable non-dairy beverages: -1%
  • Refrigerated non-dairy beverages: + 4.4% 

While plant-based foods are growing in all channels, they are growing the fastest in the natural channel (+10.7% to $207m in the year to June 12), followed by the specialty channel (+7.5% to $90m) and the multi-outlet conventional channel ‘MULO’ (+3.4% to $4.6bn), said SPINS strategic alliance manager Kora Lazarski in a webinar on plant-based food trends last Wednesday.

While 3.4% growth might now sound like much, she said, “Compared to only 1.7% for the total market of groceries and beverages, that’s a pretty big difference.”

Non-dairy beverages

Within the non-dairy beverages category, declining sales of soy and rice milks have been offset by continued growth in almond milk, coconut milk and other dairy-free options from hemp to tigernuts, macademias, pecans and cashews, said Lazarski.

Meat alternatives

Within the meat alternatives category, refrigerated meatless nuggets, strips and cutlets notched up triple-digit growth in the natural channel in the year to June 12, while frozen meatless grounds were up 55% and frozen meatless meatballs were up 15%.

Meanwhile jackfruit and mushrooms are also gaining traction as meat analogs, while market researchers will all be watching the progress of Beyond Meat’s refrigerated Beyond Burgers​ – which sit in the meat cabinet – as they roll out across Whole Foods this year.

But not everything in the category is performing well, even in the natural channel, with frozen meatless loaves, refrigerated meatless meatballs and refrigerated meatless grounds/crumbles all failing to catch fire over the same period, said SPINS retail development manager Jeff Crumpton.

Drilling down into meatless meat types, alternatives to pork and beef performed the best in all retail channels, with turkey and chicken alternatives lagging behind.

Cheese alternatives

In cheese alternatives, sales of which grew 30% in the year to June 12 in the natural channel, 27% in the specialty gourmet channel, and 2.8% YoY in the conventional channel, nut-based ‘cheeses’ are performing particularly strongly in all channels, while soy-based products (which have been steadily declining in the plant-based beverages category) are also growing robustly, said Crumpton.

Rice-based products – which grew 25% in the conventional channel, were down in specialty gourmet and natural channels, however.

Drilling down into dairy-free cheese types, cheddar, American, provolone, parmesan, gouda, chevre and Camembert all performed well, while feta, blue varieties, Mexican varieties and sweet cream cheese alternatives fared poorly.

And while the category is small (just under $100m), it has big potential, added Lazarski, citing Kite Hill's​ recent moves into almond-based-cheese-filled pastas and other products: “There is no shortage of activity here.”

Taste, animal welfare, sustainability, health…

Michele Simon, executive director of the new Plant Based Foods Association​, said it was still early days for the plant-based category, but that the potential for growth was huge as consumers experimented with new meat, egg and dairy alternatives for taste, health, sustainability and animal welfare reasons.

However, there are some regulatory issues to address including developing consistent terminology around certain products (non-dairy cheese, cultured nut product, cheese, cheese alternative etc); encouraging federal programs allow more plant-based options (eg. school meals); and creating a more level playing field for plant vs animal based products, said Simon.

“Subsidies result in artificially low pricing of animal products compared to plant-based foods, creating a disadvantage in the marketplace for plant-based foods. We’re competing with entrenched and politically powerful meat, egg and dairy industries.”

Check out Liz Crawford's podcast series on plant-based opportunities, which features Michele Simon, Califia Farms' CEO Greg Steltenpohl, Bruce Friedrich from The Good Food Institute, and Eugene Wang, founder of vegan seafood company Sophie’s Kitchen:

Related news

Related products

show more

Effera™ Human Equivalent Lactoferrin

Effera™ Human Equivalent Lactoferrin

Content provided by Helaina Inc | 17-May-2024 | Product Brochure

Helaina’s bioactive protein Effera™ is a novel branded ingredient and the first clinically studied Human Lactoferrin on the market. Human Lactoferrin is...

NAD+ Booster NMNH Proved for Safety and Efficacy

NAD+ Booster NMNH Proved for Safety and Efficacy

Content provided by Effepharm Ltd | 02-May-2024 | Product Brochure

NMNH, short for Reduced Beta-Nicotinamide Mononucleotide, refers to the reduced form of NMN. Preclinical studies show that NMNH demonstrates a remarkable...

Related suppliers

Follow us


View more