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Plant-Based Foods Rise Sharply In Popularity

Once a fad, plant-based foods now hold a solid market share.

Plant-based foods. You’ve seen them featured as a rivalry between the two US fast food giants: McDonald’s has Beyond Meat, and Burger King has Impossible Foods. Coupons for Morningstar and Gardien are now common within grocery store flyers. Parents are grabbing up Silk yogurts for lactose-intolerant toddlers. Meat alternatives are now a common purchase for US consumers.

plant-based foods

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I haven’t eaten red meat since 1980. My rationale for this lifestyle decision is a combination of seeking good health, appreciating the lives of other mammals, and doing my part to reduce greenhouse gases. Over the years, I’ve seen many meat substitutes appear in the freezer and refrigerator cases, and most of them faded quickly due to bland tastes, strange textures, and out-of-reach expenses.

But in the last 2 years, a whole new series of plant-based foods has captured the interest and tastebuds of consumers. The result of intensive food engineering and culinary expertise, these foods are making headlines. 

Plant-Based Market Overview

Photo by Carolyn Fortuna/CleanTechnica.

In 2017, according to the Good Foods Institute, the plant-based food market yielded $3.9b in sales. Fast forward to 2019, and that market has increased to $5.0b — that’s a 29% increase over 2 years. Dollar sales of plant-based foods are growing significantly, while dollar sales of conventional animal foods are declining or growing only modestly.

Plant-based foods have become marketable in the past few years due to better taste, price, and accessibility. From startups to leading CPG companies and the world’s largest meat companies, food manufacturers of all kinds are introducing plant-based foods to their catalogs. Categories of these new food items include milk, meat, meals, ice cream/ frozen novelty creamers, yogurt, butter, cheese, tofu/ tempeh, beverages, condiments/ dressings/ mayo, and eggs.

Plant-based milk is the most developed of all the product line’s categories, reaching $2.0b in sales in 2019. These milk alternatives account for 14% of all dollar sales of milk. 41% — or 53 million households — purchase this type of milk, which has opened up growth in other vegetable-based dairy categories.

Of all US households, 14% purchase plant-based meat, which translates into approximately 18 million households, and this category of food is now worth $939 million. Additionally, certain “white spaces” of botanic foods are well-positioned for market growth, according to the Good Foods Institute, including faux seafoods and refrigerated meals that are direct replacements for animal ingredients.

Who Are These Consumers?

The 2011 documentary Forks over Knives highlights the popularity of veggie-forward diets. People who’ve adopted this perspective prioritize eating more whole plant foods — with the emphasis on “more” — more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and plant-derived oils.

Indeed, ⅓ of US grocery shoppers are reducing their meat and dairy consumption. “Flexitarians” — people who are eating less and less meat and dairy than ever before — represent the largest growth opportunity for the plant-based food market share.

  • 65% omnivore
  • 29% flexitarian
  • 4% vegetarian
  • 2% vegan

Adopting a diet rich in plant-based foods, especially those high in vegetable proteins, can help prevent chronic conditions, including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Plant proteins are more affordable and far better for the planet than animal proteins.

“Twenty servings of vegetables have fewer greenhouse gas emissions than one serving of meat, with beef and lamb having the highest emissions,” says Alexis Joseph, a Columbus-based nutritionist and founder of Hummusapien

But What About Protein?

Most people in the US need not be concerned about protein intake. Just be sure, if you’re heading to a majority herbivore diet, that you also consume beans, legumes, peanut butter, soy milk, tofu, nuts, and seeds.

And watch out for C.R.A.P. (chemicals, refined sugar/ flour, artificial additives, and preservatives). Kids who lean toward plant-based eating should consume enough calcium, protein, zinc, iodine, and iron from their food sources as well as a Vitamin B12 supplement.

Final Thoughts

Starbucks now has 4 plant-based offerings on its menu. The newest item is an Impossible Sausage patty, accompanied by a cage-free egg and aged cheddar cheese, all of which is served on ciabatta bread. The move to include more vegetarian items is a result of recognition that “customers are looking for more plant-based choices,” says Michael Kobori, chief sustainability officer at Starbucks.

The other plant-based items available at Starbucks are Cold Brew with Cinnamon Almond Milk, Cold Brew with Dark Cocoa Almond Milk, and Cold Brew with Cinnamon Oatmilk Foam. 

And these Starbucks items are just a few of the numerous delicious meat and dairy substitutes that are available. If you haven’t done so already, isn’t it time you tried Gardein’s Mini-Crabless Cakes or Golden Fishless Filets? How about Morningstar Farms’ Sausage Patties or Veggie Dogs? Take it from a longtime vegetarian — they’re yummy, and, by replacing meats with these or other plant-based items, you’re contributing to a better lifestyle and planet.

By the way, the Starbucks announcement was featured on Meat + Poultry magazine.

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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