Historically, consumers would gravitate toward meat to meet their needs for protein. And while a majority of North American consumers still choose meat as their primary source of protein, plant-based options are gaining traction. Notably, a recent Nielsen global survey found that 23% of consumers want more plant-based proteins on the shelves.
In North America, consumers are actively trying to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diets (39% of Americans and 43% of Canadians). This suggests that plant-based options appeal to significantly more people than just those who follow vegetarian diets (6% of North Americans) and those who follow vegan diets (3% in the U.S. and 2% in Canada, respectively).
As with most behaviors, the appeal of plant-based proteins is varied. For many consumers, the reason for choosing plant-based proteins centers on the association of positive health effects, superior nutritional value and a need to avoid meat consumption in modern times.
Beyond the associated health benefits, North American consumers believe that plant-based foods improve overall health and help with weight management. In addition to these factors and eating clean, many also turn to plant-based diets to address health issues and to promote environmental sustainability.
In the U.S., plant-based food sales are rising: in the year ended July 8, 2017, dollar sales of plant-based food and beverages increased 14.7%. In particular, sales of meat alternatives are growing within prepared foods. Sales of prepared foods containing tofu, for example, grew 2% and drove $91 million in total sales in the last year. Alternatively, sales of prepared foods containing jackfruit, which only represent just over $220,000 in annual sales, grew 377% in the last year, indicating that consumers are willing to try a wide variety of protein options that have made their way from niche specialty stores to a variety of grocery store formats.
But protein presence is just the start: many Americans are searching for high-protein food items. According to Nielsen Product Insider, powered by Label Insight, plant-based products that are high in protein drove the highest dollar growth within the diet and nutrition, desserts and yogurt categories.
In Canada, sales of plant-based protein products grew 7% to more than $1.5 billion in the year ended April 29, 2017. When looking more closely across store aisles, however, several categories are driving bigger gains, including soy cheese, meat alternatives and tofu. Despite the impact of inflation on some categories, volume sales show that consumers are still purchasing plant-based proteins like canned beans and grains.
Whether North Americans are opting for plant-based foods, flocking to meat or opting for a combination of the two, consumers can agree on one thing: a balanced diet is key for both Americans (59%) and Canadians (67%). Producers and manufacturers on both sides of the protein fence should continue to iterate health benefits, nutrition and clean labeling in order to meet consumers’ demand for the most healthful protein options available.
Insights from this article were derived from the following data sources: