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Denise Leathers

Could retail sales be on the way up, too?

The plant-based meat category is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. As we note in our story this month regarding plant-based sales, dollar sales were down 11.8% during the most recent 12 weeks while units tumbled 18.9%, earning the segment the dubious distinction as second-biggest loser in the frozen department. How could a category that was on fire just a few short years ago have fallen so fast?


The pandemic accelerated growth, but many consumers who tried plant-based meats out of concerns around health, safety and (animal meat) availability simply didn’t like the taste. Or the price. Or the fact that many faux meats are highly processed and not all that good for you after all. But manufacturers have taken note, and the category is starting to show signs of life once again.

In fact, a new report from The Good Food Institute (GFI) reveals that in the foodservice sector where most CPG trends get their start, plant- based meat sales actually grew faster than animal-based meat sales (in terms of pounds) from 2021 to 2022. That’s good news because, let’s face it, plant-based meats prepared by a chef are probably a lot more palatable than the stuff consumers make at home, which helps to disprove the notion that meat substitutes don’t taste good. “Despite recent volatility, foodservice is a key market entry point for plant- based products,” confirms the report.

What else will it take to reinvigorate retail sales? In its just-released report, “Sowing the Seeds of the Future,” Cadent Consulting Group suggests retailers consider the motivations of different buying groups. For example, “Loyalists” who have purchased plant- based products consistently in the past several years do so primarily for health reasons and to address concerns around the environment and animal welfare. These core buyers “should be targeted by retailers and manufacturers hoping to become winners in this space,” says the report. So play up those attributes!

“Lapsed Buyers,” on the other hand, are more concerned with price and taste; these folks are also more likely than current plant-based buyers to report a decrease in their grocery budgets compared with last year. “Re-attracting lapsed buyers to the category will require offerings that achieve ‘closer to parity’ with animal products in price and taste,” according to Cadent, which cites the potential of mushroom-based, cultivated/cell-based and blended products.

And then there are the “Hold Outs,” who tend to be lower income and are generally happy eating animal-based meats. Once again, taste and price are the biggest barriers to purchase. But one positive is that the third most common reason cited by the group for not trying plant-based is lack of knowledge about available options. “So raising awareness of and access to these categories could entice some potential buyers,” says Cadent. New snack-type products could also help attract non-buyers to the plant-based space.

“Plant-based or alternative proteins still represent a huge opportunity,” says the report. “But it appears that the initial ‘revolution’ has turned into a ‘reinvention.’”


Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer will once again honor the top women in the industry in our January-February issue. If you know someone deserving of a FoRWARD Award (Frozen & Refrigerated Women Achieving Remarkable Distinction), shoot me an e-mail and let me know why.

Denise Leathers

Denise Leathers

Denise is the Editorial Director for Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer.

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