Pile of colorful fruits and vegetables

A Quick Take on Today’s Herbivores

By Jamie Phillips, MS, RDN

Beyond Meatless Mondays, vegetarian diets are gaining traction. These diets are as varied as the people who enjoy them, but there are certain commonalities, such as the inclusion of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and legumes. The difference lies in what animal-based products are included or excluded. In honor of National Vegetarian Awareness Month1 this October – a month-long celebration of the power of plant-based nutrition – let’s explore some dietary and plant-based food trends currently on the rise.


Types of Vegetarian Diets

Lacto-Vegetarian: The diet excludes meat, poultry, eggs, and fish/seafood but includes dairy products.

Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian: The diet excludes meat, poultry, and fish/seafood but includes dairy products and eggs.  An Ovo-Vegetarian would include eggs but restrict dairy products.

Semi-Vegetarian: Flexible diet (sometimes called flexitarian or reducetarian) that includes limited amounts of animal products. This type of diet is usually based on individual preferences, so foods consumed may vary.

Pescetarian: This diet excludes meat or poultry products but includes fish and seafood. It may include eggs and dairy as well.

Pollotarian: This diet excludes meat and fish/seafood but does include poultry products. It may include dairy or eggs.

Vegan: The strictest form of a vegetarian diet, a vegan diet does not allow any animal-based products (meat, dairy, poultry, eggs, fish/seafood) or ingredients derived from animals (honey, gelatin, whey, casein, etc.).


Plant-Based Trends

Whether fueled by consumer desire for a smaller carbon footprint, ethical concerns for animal welfare, or dietary curiosity, plant-based products are on the rise. These products represent over $3B in total sales with 7.5% growth year over year in the Frozen, Refrigerated, and Grocery categories. 2 In segments where consumers are consciously choosing a plant-based version over a traditionally animal-based product, SPINS sees growth in a few key areas:





U.S. Dietary Patterns

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service, current eating patterns in the United States do not meet recommendations set forth in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020.3

Consumption of fruits and vegetables has increased since the 70s, but Americans are still short of meeting the recommend intakes. While SPINS data shows increased cross-channel growth year over year in fresh produce (+2.5%), fruit (+3.7%), vegetables (+2.2%), and salads and greens (+2.7%), this does not necessarily correlate to increased consumption.2 In fact, per-unit sales of packaged produce have been in decline for the last three years in all channels. 4 Unfortunately, sales of shelf-stable fruits have been stagnant (0% growth) and vegetables have declined (2.2%). Sales of frozen fruits and vegetables tell a similar story, with both categories declining (5.3% and 0.7%, respectively). 2


Benefits of Plant-Powered Diets

There are numerous reasons why plant-forward food solutions are growing. Some consumers may seek plant-based diets ​as a more budget-friendly alternative to a traditional diet, while leaving​ ​a​ ​smaller environmental​ ​footprint​. Others may choose plant-centric diets because of animal welfare concerns.  Regardless of the reason, plant-based diets offer health benefits because they are nutrient-dense, and evidence​ ​suggests​ ​they may​ ​help reduce​ ​​risk​ ​for​ ​chronic​ ​disease​ by helping to lower​ ​cholesterol, body weight, and ​​blood​ ​pressure, as well as​ possibly ​improving​ ​blood glucose control. To keep up with the preferences of today’s consumers, the growing plant-based trends in today’s retail marketplace are important to understand in October and beyond.


  1. Retrieved October 15, 2017, from https://navs-online.org.
  2. SPINSscan Natural and Specialty Gourmet (Proprietary), MULO (powered by IRI) 13 Quads Ending 10-Sep-2017.
  3. USDA, Economic Research Service, Loss-Adjusted Food Availability Data, and 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines.
  4. SPINSscan Natural and Specialty Gourmet (proprietary), MULO (powered by IRI) 52 Weeks Ending 10-Sep-2017.