Not so long ago, plant-based dairy and meat alternatives were more difficult to find in grocery stores, often relegated to the corner of the dairy or frozen aisle, or limited to a small selection of specialties. These days, whether you’re a strict vegan or a flexitarian, you have a plethora of options, and according to online headlines and Instagram feeds everywhere, the plant-based lifestyle is fast becoming mainstream. Chances are, you’ve even added a plant-based product to your shopping cart at some point.
According to Instacart sales data, every third Instacart customer has bought a plant-based meat or dairy product.
Last year, our collective love affair with herbal products exploded when the pandemic fueled health-conscious consumers’ interest in herbal alternatives. According to a recent Instacart survey conducted by The Harris Poll, 30% of respondents said they plan to continue eating healthier when asked about the food and dietary habits adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic to prepare lighter plant-based meals.
“Plant-based foods have evolved from a niche category into a food staple over the past two years,” says Laurentia Romaniuk, Trends Expert and Senior Product Manager at Instacart. “The search for terms such as“ plant-based ”,“ meatless ”,“ vegetarian ”and especially“ vegan ”began at Instacart, as consumers were looking for healthy meals to take at home during the 2020 embargo period. And this trend is turning into a long-term lifestyle – the popularity of the search increased even more in 2021. ”
This boom in popularity led Instacart to dig deeper into the trends shaping this growing food category and how plant-based products – especially dairy and meat alternatives – are capturing the “stomach percentage” of so many Americans.
MEAT AND MILK ALTERNATIVES GO MAINSTREAM
Over the past three years, two plant-based categories in particular have caught the attention of Instacart customers as they built their virtual carts.
1) Plant-based meat – In the “grill-friendly artificial meat” category, Instacart recorded significant sales growth last year with growth of 42% compared to the previous year in 2020.
2) Plant-Based Milk – Whether you used to go to cooperatives to find out which brand of soy milk you loved or are now on a waiting list for your favorite brand of oat milk, plant-based milk has remained popular around the world Years of dairy free buyers. Recently, the category saw a significant increase, with the adoption rate for plant-based milk increasing by 27% over the course of 2020.
Here’s a look at the fastest growing plant-based meat and dairy brands in the Instacart market:
PORTRAIT OF A PLANT BASED CUSTOMER
So we know herbal products are popping up in the aisles, but what do we know about who is buying them? Are you young early adopters from big metros? Not exactly! Instacart’s market data shows that the plant-based customer profile is much more diverse than you might think – this is how it works:
You are younger (except when it comes to soy milk)
Plant-based Instacart buyers tend to be younger compared to regular meat and milk buyers. More than one in three Instacart herbal customers are between 30 and 39 years old, but that’s not the whole story. In the milk duct, things get more interesting when we look at which plant-based dairy products different generations buy:
● Oat milk buyers are generally younger than regular milk buyers, with most of them under 35 years of age.
● Soy milk buyers are generally older than conventional milk buyers.
You are meat eater….
Yes, you read that right – nearly half (43%) of Instacart customers who buy plant-based meat also buy conventional meat
“Growing consumer acceptance of sustainable living has inspired many to eat flexibly,” says Romaniuk.
“Mixed baskets also illustrate the reality for most American families – the multi-diet household. With so many meat and dairy alternatives available to consumers, living in harmony under one roof is easier than ever for a wide variety of dietary preferences. ”
You live in the west … but that is changing quickly
As you’d expect, consumers west of the Mississippi are buying the most plant-based meat and dairy products, with big-name metropolises like Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles and Seattle dominating sales in both categories. However, it gets more interesting when we look at where sales are growing fastest:
● In the milk duct, sales of plant-based milk are booming in the south and east. The southern metros dominate the growth rankings of 2021 with southwest Florida (+ 11%). Atlanta, GA (+ 8%); Orlando, FL (+ 8%); Tampa, FL (+ 8%); and Hampton Roads, VA (+ 7%) leading the way.
Cities on the east coast buy plant-based meat in droves in the meat aisle. Pittsburgh, PA (+ 55%); Orlando, FL (+ 22%); Hampton Roads, VA (+ 20%); Jacksonville, FL (+ 18%); and Atlanta, GA (+ 18%) will buy plant-based meats for the fastest price in 2021.
WHAT’S IN MY BASKET: KALE OR COLA?
Our shopping carts say a lot about us. Based on our shopping cart analysis, if you are one of the 33% or over of Instacart customers who added a plant-based meat or dairy product to their shopping cart, it is also more likely that you have a range of health foods, energy supplements, nut butters, and cereals. It gets really interesting if we just focus on buying meat. If we ignore the flexitarians who buy both vegetable and conventional meat and instead compare the carts of customers who buy only vegetable ground beef or only conventional ground beef, the two carts couldn’t be more different:
TEAM OATS OR ALMOND? The plant-based milk war is raging
If someone is adding a herbal product to their Instacart shopping cart for the first time, it is likely a dairy alternative. And it’s even more likely that they’ll opt for almond milk. Almond milk is currently the most popular plant-based milk by sales volume among Instacart customers and also tops the list of first-time purchases by most plant-based consumers.
When it comes to plant-based milk wars, the days of almond milk at the top of the pile can be counted. It seems like there is a new milk alternative every week, and when it comes to the most vibrant new milk on the block, the one you want to try is likely to be influenced by where you live.
In the west and southeast, consumers buy more pea milk than the national average, while coconut milk dominates in the Pacific northwest and oat milk is a favorite in the northeast. In the Midwest, Central Atlantic and part of the South, more consumers are sticking to some of the classic favorites and buying more soy milk and almond milk than the national average.
“The duct is constantly evolving to meet the needs of the ever-changing and increasingly special American diet,” says Romaniuk. “Some consumers swear by the foam that oat milk gives their lattes, while others don’t consume anything with muesli other than almond milk. As more consumers try the variety of plant-based milk options, I’m not surprised that aspiring players like pea, cashew, and even avocado milk are finding their way into more carts. ”
JACKFRUIT: THE NEXT BIG CROSSOVER?
While home consumers spent time researching pea milk and adding l perfected plant-based ground beef to their weekly rotation, Instacart data shows they also had their eye on another plant-based meat alternative – jackfruit. This bulbous, prickly relative of the fig has seen tremendous growth on Instacart lately.
Instacart customers launched jackfruit 50% faster in 2020 and growth continues through 2021.
Will jackfruit be the next vegetarian mainstay to find its way into the flexitarian mainstream?
“We expect consumers to diversify their summer grills with more vegetable proteins this year,” says Romaniuk. “If jackfruit adoption rates continue to rise, as they did during the pandemic, a lot more consumers will be pairing pulled jackfruit with their vegan plant-based sausages and burgers this barbecue season.”
This survey was conducted online in the US by The Harris Poll on behalf of Instacart from February 25 to March 1, 2021 of 2,038 US adults aged 18 and over. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore an estimate of the theoretical sample error cannot be calculated. For a complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and sample sizes for subgroups, please contact [email protected]
Instacart analyzed anonymized, aggregated search and purchase activities on our market to understand which products and categories are trending. In year-over-year measurements, Instacart compared searches and sales from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019 with activity from January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020. Measurements taken since the beginning of 2021, Instacart measured search and sales activity between January 1, 2021 and on May 10, 2021. All year-over-year and indexed data is normalized to account for customer growth.