Image of two people enjoying a plant-based meal

The State of Plant-Based Products and 3 Tips to Stay Ahead of the Evolving Market

Plant-Based Market Growth Continues to Impress

Plant-based products might seem like a ubiquitous topic in the health and wellness industry, and it is—for a good reason. Today, plant-based products sit at the intersection of several consumer priorities, which create a business opportunity that retailers and CPG brands are paying attention to. With so much talk about how hot plant-based products are right now, you might be wondering what elements are passing trends and which are long-term consumer shifts so you can adapt accordingly. 

Today, plant-based items are still a fraction of sales compared to mainstream items, but their growth is impressive. This is notable first because double digit growth means plant-based items are gaining a wider audience than ever before. Additionally, plant-based departments are selling billions of dollars, which tells us that the while the market is sizeablethere is still a huge opportunity to bring in a wider audience. 

image showing the growth in plant-based positioned products

To help you make sense of what the present and future of plant-based look like, SPINS and C.A. Fortune recently hosted The State of Plant-Based webinar. Experts explained why the best way to make the most of this growing space is to: 

  • Appeal to shoppers choosing plant-based as a “better-for-you” option 
  • Align with a broad range of diets embracing plant-based products 
  • Position plant-based as the destination—not the alternative—for shoppers 

These tactics are important to think about because shopper priorities aren’t entirely separate. Shoppers who are looking for better-for-the-planet products are likely adopting a climatarian diet and view plant-based items as a must-buy. Succeeding in the market means looking at the big picture for plant-based trends and shoppers.   

1. Appeal to Shoppers Choosing Plant-Based as a “Better-For-Me” Option

Every shopper has their own reasons for opting for plant-based items, but personal and environmental health concerns remain top of mind. Health and nutrition matter—especially after the year we’ve had—and simple, functional ingredients are top of mind 

Clean labels not only appeal to shoppers avoiding processed foods or artificial ingredients but also get the attention of anyone who wants to know how their purchases affect the environment. For example, label with minimal ingredients that you recognize and a certification that assures you the products were ethically sourced lets you take comfort in how you’re spending your dollars. 

SPINS data shows that those certifications are becoming increasingly important to shoppers. Over a 52-week period, SPINS Natural Enhanced and Conventional Multi Outlet (powered by IRI) channels found an increase in the following: 

Products with organic ingredients
Product labeled non-GMO
Fair Trade products
Products that are Certified B Corportaion

What you can do: Dispel the notion that plant-based items are primarily high carb options derived from legumes. Curious shoppers willing to make trial purchases, and they have plenty to choose from that they’ve likely never heard of before. With low carb, high protein items showing strong growth, it’s time to make sure shoppers know they can satisfy any of their dietary needs with plant-based products. 

2. Align With a Broad Range of Plant-Based Diets

As you might expect, that wide range of better-for-everyone priorities suits a variety of diets—including plant-based. In the early days of specialty and wellness products, you could categorize diets into a few broader buckets like all-natural, vegetarian, or allergy-specific. Today, plant-based is a product attribute as much as it is a lifestyle, which is why vegetarian and vegan shoppers share quite a few pantry items with conventional shoppers.  

Flexitarians, for example, are incorporating meatless meals into their menus without making a full commitment to an animal-free lifestyle. They and other shoppers curious about a dietary shift are testing out products to get a sense of what’s out in the market. Maybe they will ditch all animal-based meats, or maybe some are climatarians looking for choices that reduce their carbon footprint.  

SPINS data finds that vegan is the prominent product trait for plant-based products, but there are several underrepresented diets that provide opportunity for innovation and audience gains. For the same 52-week period we looked at before, we saw exciting trends of growth within plant-based: 

Paleo products
Whole30 products
Vegan products
Keto products
Vegetarian only

Brand examples

image of No Evil chicken strips as an example of plant-based products
image of Beanfield's vegan prok rinds as an example of plant-based products

Versatility in this plant-based chicken that can be used in a variety of recipes. It has no cholesterol and the brand has a strong sustainability mission. While vegan pork rinds let meat-free shoppers enjoy an item that, until now, were entirely off limits. 

What retailers can do: Shoppers are seeking out these certifications and reading labels, so put this information front and center on packing, in promotions, on eCommerce experiences, and in the store. The better-for-everyone quality of these products should be apparent for the shopper at every touchpoint. 

3. Treat Plant-Based Products as a Destination, Not an Alternative

Innovation has helped plant-based to reach nutritional parity with many animal-derived counterparts and created in addition to offering their own benefits. That’s why for many shoppers these products aren’t alternatives to traditional options; they are exactly what they’re looking for across all mealsWhether they want items rich in fiber, a grab-and-go snack, or a high protein dinner, shoppers can satisfy their cravings with a plant-based product. 

For the same 52-week period, SPINS data shows that plant-based options are outpacing conventional growth in several meal occasions: 

Plant-based jerky and meat snacks
vs. Animal-based
Plant-based breakfast meats
vs. animal-based
Plant-positioned frozen meals and entrees
vs. non-plant-positioned

Brand examples

image of Gardien plant-based jerky
Image of plant-based jerky

Snacks like plant-based jerky are looking to match the nutritional profile of meat jerky. High protein is still a top driver to meat, and plant-based options need to compete on nutrition. 

What retailers can do: Give plant-based items the attention you would offer more traditional alternatives. New protein sources are gaining traction: Alternative bases in tofu, tempeh, and seitan are satisfying allergy-specific diets, while pea and rice protein are popping up in meatballs. Rather than viewing plant-based options as alternative options, position them as products customers from all walks are looking for. 


The State of Plant-Based Innovation

Did you know that plant-based products grew 30% over the last year? The plant-based audience is evolving quickly and inspiring new products to hit shelves every day. Is your brand positioned to stand out and compete in this increasingly competitive market?