Plant-based food sales have grown 20 percent over the past year, according to new data from Nielsen, and interest in these products has expanded past strictly vegan eaters.
Despite the ever-growing market demand for plant-based products, only six percent of Americans identify as vegan, according to a 2017 Top Trends in Prepared Foods report. Omnivores are increasingly purchasing plant-based alternatives, with nearly nine in 10 households that purchase milk alternatives also purchasing dairy milk some of the time, according to a 2017 USDA report.
“These foods have moved into the mainstream,” Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant-Based Foods Association tells Bloomberg. “They’re not just for the relatively small niche of vegan or vegetarian.”
Producers of meat alternatives like Beyond Meat knowingly cater to these occasional consumers, according to Will Schafer, vice president of marketing at Beyond Meat.
“Consumers are looking for something that gives them the experience of meat without downsides,” Schafer tells Bloomberg. “Or, as I like to say, you can have your burger and eat it, too.”
More and more mainstream food producers are moving into the plant-based space, such as dairy giant Dean Foods, which recently announced a majority investment in Good Karma Foods, a producer of flax milk, and meat processor Tyson Foods launching its own plant protein brand, Green Street.
Recent market reports have identified this growing trend for meat and dairy alternatives, with one July report from Innova Market Insights showing that the number of new plant-based food and beverage products worldwide increased 62 percent between 2013 and 2017. The report also showed that 40 percent of U.S. consumers had increased their consumption of plant-based alternatives in the past year.
A recent research review showed that plant-based alternatives were a “useful transition food” to a more healthful lifestyle.
“Processed plant-based foods like veggie sausage, bacon, or vegan cheese can be useful for some to use as transition foods, because they provide the taste of the animal products people are accustomed to consuming, with fewer health risks,” study author Hana Kahleova, PhD., M.D. tells FoodNavigator.
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