Plant-based meat is being purchased more than ever as sales skyrocket amid the coronavirus outbreak and market confusion.

In March, as offices, restaurants and schools closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, sales in the grocery sector shot up 26.9%, compared to the month before, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Food categories from baking ingredients to canned beans saw gigantic sales boosts. Both plant-based and conventional meats saw sales spike as consumers filled their refrigerators and freezers for the long haul.

But comparing plant-based and conventional meat, the size of the increase was very different. According to Nielsen, sales of fresh plant-based meat alternatives have nearly doubled every month this year. In March, grocery stores sold 231% more fresh plant-based than a year prior. IRI data analysed by The Good Food Institute saw an even larger increase, with plant-based meat sales 454% higher than the previous year the week of March 21.

Conventional meat sales saw a bump too, but it was much smaller. Nielsen reported the largest year-over-year increase in sales was in March, when conventional meat sales were 40% above 2019. IRI statistics found conventional meat sales doubled the week of March 21 compared to the year before, but weekly sales increases stayed for the most part below 50% when compared to 2019.

Though the growth in plant-based meat looks gigantic compared to conventional, it is deceptive. After all, the U.S. meat market is worth about $95 billion at retail, as opposed to about $1 billion for plant-based meat. And while meat alternatives are growing, it will take a lot for them to make a dent in the meat industry. According to a May study from Datassential, nearly seven in 10 people classified themselves as meat-eaters.

Plant-based meat sales grew much faster than conventional counterparts

Year-over-year percent change in refrigerated plant-based meat and conventional meat sales Nick Fereday, executive director of food and consumer trends at Rabobank, said compared to the size and profits of the conventional meat market, he said, the amount of money that consumers put into plant-based meat is small enough to be considered a “rounding error.”

“It’s easy to get seduced by those numbers, I think, and talk about addressable [future] markets in the hundreds of billions,” Fereday said. “When I see all of that, I just say, ‘Well, that’s normal.’ …It’s not that I’m not impressed by those things. It could be any other novel food ingredient that’s come to the fore. It just happens to be plant-based right now.”

But plant-based meat had already been growing quickly before the pandemic. According to statistics from SPINS and The Good Food Institute, dollar sales of plant-based meat grew 38% from 2017 to 2019. A report last summer from UBS – months before COVID-19 – projected this rapid growth would continue, getting about 18.5 times bigger to becoming an $85 billion industry by 2030.

While it’s too early to see the trajectory of 2020’s growth curve, early indicators point to a steep climb. As a category, sales growth for plant-based food through mid-April was higher than food in general, SPINS statistics analyzed by The Good Food Institute indicated. “I think disrupting that model means not even full replacement, but just getting enough people to stop consuming that product to the point where that business model is no longer viable.”

While some have said that meat alternatives will eventually dominate the protein industry, now could be the time that those winds are starting to change. Coronavirus outbreaks in meat-packing plants led to meat shortages nationwide and put a spotlight on the way the meat industry operates. A pandemic with no cure forces consumers to think about how they can eat better and boost their immunity. And more plant-based and meat alternative products are appearing on grocery shelves nationwide.

There’s a lot up in the air right now, said Jan Dutkiewicz, a political economist, a postdoctoral fellow at Concordia University and visiting fellow at Harvard Law School. “It’s far too soon to say this is a pivotal moment,” he said. “Now, with that being said, I think that while the meat industry is getting bad press, and as alternative teams get better and then offered in more spaces people already shop, and as more consumer awareness of these new products piles up, and as potentially good press – or even conversation around them pops up – and more people are willing to try them, I think that that bodes very well for the future of these products.”

Why plant based is growing

Plant-based meat has been trendy since it first started appearing in grocery stores and restaurants.
Consumers, investors, influencers and journalists alike were entranced by products that looked, browned and “bled” like beef, but were made from plants. And the trend has been endlessly studied.

According to a survey from the International Food Information Council released in February, 41% of consumers decided to eat plant-based meat because they like to try new foods. In another study from IFIC that concentrated on comparing plant-based and animal meat, 45% of consumers thought a plant-based product was healthier than ground beef based on the Nutrition Facts label. In the annual IFIC Food and Health Survey released in June, 43% said that a product with a description of “plant-based” would likely be the most healthy one out of several options.

More than half of consumers – 52% – said eating plant-based foods made them feel healthier in a 2018 study from DuPont Nutrition & Health. Whether these products truly are healthier is a large question. Last year, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article that said more research into the topic was needed. A study by researchers at Stanford Medicine published in August indicated that plant-based meat could lower some cardiovascular risk factors, but that study was relatively small and funded by Beyond Meat.

In these days, Fereday said, perception is everything. “We all know that we’re not eating enough fruits and veggies,” he said. “Everyone from grandmothers to the government has been telling me that. And so anything that has kind of plays to that, I think, has a healthy connotation. And certainly during a pandemic where there is no vaccine and our health is our only insurance policy, then people will consciously try and go for things that they know to be healthy or believe to be healthy, whether the science is there or not. I think there’s this mathematical inevitability of plant-based foods becoming a bigger part of our diet going forward.”

The other factor that has helped this growth is quite simply the number of plant-based products available. Given the interest and investment in the plant-based sector, many analysts predicted in 2019 that 2020 would be a big year for meat alternatives. Since January, there have been high profile retail launches from JBS’s Planterra Foods – a brand new division of the world’s biggest meat company – Beyond Meat, Nestlé’s Sweet Earth and Kellogg’s Incogmeato.

While Impossible Foods hasn’t released any new products in grocery stores, it’s expanded its retail availability considerably. In 2019, the former foodservice-only product was sold in fewer than 150 stores nationwide. A gigantic retail expansion effort in 2020 has brought its products to more than 11,000 grocery stores. Beyond Meat, which is the other biggest player in the strictly plant-based meat sector, tripled its distribution at Walmart stores last month.

Original source: https://www.fooddive.com

 

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