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‘Plant-based’ has not peaked, but rather grown into a lifestyle

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“Plant-based” was an unfamiliar term just a few years ago to most consumers, but today, plant-based eating and products that advertise themselves as plant-based — from mashed potatoes to cleaning products — are prolific. 

But with slowing growth in some categories of plant-based products, and a pioneer of the imitation meat world reporting slowing sales and other woes, it’s natural to ask the question: Will demand for plant-based food fall as fast as it grew? Far from it, according to Datassential

The term “plant-based” on menus — once up as much as 2800% over the last four years — is now up by 1517%. That may seem like a significant shift, but it still makes the term one of the fastest-growing on menus, by far. 

Perhaps, put simply, plant-based has gone from a trend to a lifestyle. 

And although vegetarian and vegan diets are still relatively rare among consumers (about 2% identify as vegan and 3% as vegetarian), a growing number of Americans are limiting meat, raising their consumption of plants and trying to lean into more of a plant-based diet in the future. 

Some 71% of Americans identify as meat eaters, according to Datassential, but 22% call themselves flexitarian, which means simply that they focus on eating less meat, whether that’s adhering to “Meatless Mondays” or abstaining from meat in another way. And another 7% call themselves pescatarian, vegetarian, or vegan. Together, that means that 29% of the population, or almost one in three Americans, are “meat-limiters,” When you look at younger consumers, it’s even higher: 36% of Gen Z consumers define themselves in some way as meat-limiters. 

When looking closer at what consumers are planning for in the future, the desire for more plant-based options is growing. About 14% of consumers say they want to eat more meat, down 6% from last year. But 57% of consumers say they want to eat more fruits and vegetables, up 10% from last year. 

The same goes for dairy vs. alternatives. Some 15% of consumers say they want to consume more dairy, down 6% from last year. And about one-quarter (24%) want to increase the number of non-dairy substitutes in their diet, up 5% from last year. 

Of course, one can certainly insert the old adage here about “the best-laid plans,” but consumers’ intentions, coupled with the still-rapid growth of plant-based as a term on menus, should encourage food makers to continue to invest in the expansion of plant-based offerings. 

And that expansion can help steer already “plant-minded” consumers into opting for an alternative to meat and dairy. Especially when you consider that nearly two-thirds (65%) of consumers agree that climate change can be mitigated by eating differently. Sure, there are other ways to help the planet, like using less plastic or driving an electric car, but the most attainable, practical way for consumers seems to be eating more plants.

And consumers believe there are big personal benefits to a plant-based diet as well. Almost 40% believe plant-based or plant-forward food supports digestive health, and 32% believe it protects them from long-term disease. Other benefits of the diet that consumers believe include support for weight loss, healthier bones, skin and hair, immunity protection and improvements in energy. 

Datassential’s research suggests that consumers are considering plant-based foods for their long-term benefits, rather than any quick-health fixes. And that’s what makes it a good bet to wager on the plant-based boom not fading anytime soon. 

Samantha Des Jardins is a content marketing manager at Datassential.

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