Meat Alternatives are Still Growing Rapidly in Sales and Consumer Scrutiny
During the COVID-19 pandemic, "surge buying" of meat alternatives signals that this growing category may be here to stay.
Even in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, retail sales of meat alternatives continue to surge in the US.1 According to Nielsen, just before shoppers started “surge buying” (the week ending Feb 29, 2020), sales of meat alternatives were already growing at a rate of 158.3% compared to last year. After surge buying began in the US, sales for this plant-based category spiked even more dramatically. For the week ending March 21, 2020, retail sales for fresh meat alternatives were up 454.1% compared to the same week in the previous year.1
Regular meat sales have also been rising during this stockpiling period, but not nearly at the rates that meat alternatives are experiencing. For instance, fresh meat retail sales rose 100% for the week ending March 21, 2020 – still 354.1% less than fresh meat alternatives in the same week.1
This positive data for meat alternatives may be a signal that this growing category is here to stay. With these changes in mind, it’s important for the food industry to understand how consumers perceive and behave toward meat alternatives.
Changes such as these described above support why Cargill continues to conduct annual consumer perception research. In the new 2020 study conducted by Cargill, we asked 10,643 respondents, “as you shop for packaged foods or beverages you never before purchased for your household, how likely are you to check the ingredient list?” 2
We uncovered that the majority of consumers polled check ingredient lists before purchasing new products, with a total of 65% saying they’re extremely or very likely to check the listed ingredients. 2
However, ingredient list checking differs among food categories. In this wave of research, we evaluated 15 different food categories and compared important psychographic, demographic, and ingredient perception results, including ingredient list checking. 2
According to the data, 80% of shoppers indicate that they check ingredient lists when shopping for meat alternatives. The next highest categories for ingredient list checking were plant-based, non-dairy milks (73%) and snack bars (65%).2
With 15% more consumers saying they check ingredient lists for meat alternatives compared to foods and beverages overall (65%), it’s clear that meat substitutes may be one of the most scrutinized food categories. 2
Cargill research also found that when consumers are shopping for meat alternatives, they’re most commonly avoiding “chemical-sounding,” “highly processed” and “artificial” ingredient names. Also, consumers are more often searching for potassium in meat alternatives than they would be with food and beverage products in general, and some are actively avoiding sodium, as well. 2
In this rapidly growing food category, it’s important that food manufacturers stay focused on the micro-trends within the plant-based movement and respond to specific consumer desires in order to stay on top.3
- Cargill’s Proprietary 2020 IngredienTracker™ Survey