ALEXANDRIA, Va.—When the U.S. went into a pandemic lockdown in March, sales in the grocery sector shot up 26.9%, compared to the month before, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Consumers stocked up for the long haul, but their demands for plant-based versus conventional meat was different.
According to a FoodDive.com report, sales of fresh, plant-based meat alternatives have nearly doubled every month this year. In March, grocery stores sold 231% more fresh plant-based meat alternatives than a year prior. IRI data analyzed by The Good Food Institute saw an even larger increase, with plant-based meat sales 454% higher than the previous year during the week of March 21.
Conventional meat sales were up, too, but the increase was smaller. Nielsen reported the largest year-over-year increase in sales occurred in March, when conventional meat sales were 40% above 2019. IRI statistics found meat sales doubled the week of March 21 compared with the year before, but weekly sales increases stayed for the most part below 50% when compared with last year.
Although the growth in plant-based meat looks gigantic, it’s somewhat deceptive. The U.S. meat market is worth about $95 billion at retail, as opposed to about $1 billion for plant-based meat. While the demand for meat alternatives are growing, it will take a lot for sales to make a dent in the meat industry.
According to Nick Fereday, executive director of food and consumer trends at Rabobank, the Dutch multinational banking and financial services company, compared to the size and profits of the conventional meat industry, the sales of plant-based meat are small enough to be considered a "rounding error."
Sales of plant-based meat were 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 projected that rapid growth would continue, making plant-based meats an $85 billion industry by 2030.
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