Meatless: It's not just for vegans anymore
NPD Group said data shows a clearly higher demand for plant-based proteins today, evidenced by 19 percent growth in cases of such proteins shipped from foodservice distributors to independent one- to two-unit operators and so-called micro-chains with three to 19 units. That growth took place for the year-long period ending in March 2018, compared to same period a year earlier, according to the global information company.
The popularity of these so-called "center-of-the-plate" options is echoed by numbers around in-home consumption, which showed a 24 percent increase since 2015. These numbers are accompanied by what NPD said is 60 percent of U.S. consumers alone saying they want to get more protein in their diets. In fact, NPD said many consumers are mixing both m
"It's clear by the growth of plant-based proteins that this category has mainstreamed beyond those consumers who choose a meatless diet," NPD Food Sector Industry Advisor David Portalatin, said in the release. "Food manufacturers and operators have improved the quality and taste of plant-based foods over the past several years and these foods are appealing to a variety of consumer segments for a variety of reasons."
In a recent NPD survey, for instance, 14 percent of U.S. consumers (more than 43 million people) regularly use plant-based alternatives, like almond milk, tofu, and veggie burgers. Take this with the fact that the company said 86 percent of those consumers don't see themselves as eating a vegan or vegetarian diet, and the pervasiveness of the trend is evident.
Dieters, those with specific medical conditions, and consumers who think of food primarily as fuel comprise the heaviest users of these proteins, the company said. They also tend to be more oriented toward "convenience" foods and less confident in the kitchen, the company said. However, one of the fastest-growing groups of people eating plant-based foods is what the company describes as "those who are all about the taste of foods."
Beef alternatives make up 44 percent of the plant-based categories being shipped to independent and micro-chain restaurant operators and are the primary contributor to the total category's growth. Burgers are the largest beef alternative category but balled meat products, like "meatless meatballs," have outpaced burgers and all other plant-based protein formats in terms of growth.
The U.S. regions that have realized the strongest growth in case shipments of plant-based proteins to foodservice operators are:
- The Mountain/Pacific area including Arizona, California and others.
- The South Atlantic area including Florida as well as the Carolinas and others.