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Plant-based meat saw the biggest gain in the plant-based foods category, with retail sales surging 148% in mid-March from a year ago.

Plant-based food sales soared 90% in peak panic-buying period

Coronavirus outbreak spurred consumers to try alternatives, PBFA/SPINS research shows

Retail sales of plant-based food experienced a major spike in mid-March, outpacing overall food sales as consumers raced to stock up ahead of COVID-19 lockdowns, according to the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) and wellness-focused data and retail analytics firm SPINS.

PBFA and SPINS said Tuesday that retail sales of plant-based food as of March 15 were up 90% from a year earlier, compared with about 70% growth for total food retail sales. In the four weeks after the peak panic-buying period, plant-based food sales grew 27%, which is 35% faster than total retail food.

“This new data shows that consumers are turning to plant-based food options now more than ever,” Julie Emmett, senior director of retail partnerships at San Francisco-based PBFA, said in a statement. “Even after the highest panic-buying period, plant-based foods growth remains strong, proving that this industry has staying power.”


PBFA evaluated overall retail sales of plant-based foods as well as some fast-growing categories — including plant-based meat, plant-based cheese, and tofu and tempeh — during the 16 weeks ended April 19, based on the SPINSscan Conventional Multi Outlet (powered by IRI) and SPINSscan Natural Enhanced channels. The data reflects sales of plant-based foods that replace animal products, including meat, milk, dairy, and tofu and tempeh.

Plant-based meat saw the biggest gain, with retail sales surging 148% in mid-March from a year ago. That growth was 50% more versus the peak panic-buying rate for animal-based meat, which saw about 100% year-over-year growth, PBFA reported. The ensuing four weeks saw plant-based meat sales grow at a rate of 61%, more than twice as fast as animal-based meat. What’s more, animal-based meat sales declined over the last two weeks of the period, whereas plant-based sales trended upward.


In one category segment, refrigerated plant-based meat, retail sales skyrocketed 241% during peak panic buying and continued to rise 113% over the following four weeks.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a continued shift in consumer purchasing toward natural and organic products that enhance health and immunity,” explained Tony Olson, owner and CEO of SPINS. “Our data shows the plant-based meat boom of last year continues and, as reports of animal-based meat shortages increase, we can expect plant-based meat to gain even more traction.”  

Meanwhile, plant-based cheese retail sales climbed 95% as of mid-March compared with a year ago, and the segment’s sales were up 54% for the following four weeks. Similarly, retail sales for tofu and tempeh rose 88% versus a year earlier as of March 15 and were up 35% in the four weeks post-panic buying.

“These strong numbers prove that the plant-based industry is here to stay and will only continue to grow,” commented Michele Simon, PBFA executive director. “PBFA members and their staff are working hard to provide consumers with nourishing foods during these difficult times and beyond.”

In 2019, the U.S. market for plant-based foods hit $5 billion, up 11.4% from $4.5 billion a year earlier, PBFA announced in early March. Overall U.S. retail food sales rose 2.2% last year, the association noted. Milk remained the biggest plant-based category with sales of $2 billion (+5%), followed by meat at $939 million (+18.4%), meals at $377 million (+8.3%), ice cream at $336 million (+5.7%) and creamer at $287 million (+34.3%).

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