Plant-based meat alternatives are not slowing down, says market research firm Numerator

August 20, 2019

It may come as no surprise that the meat alternatives space is a burgeoning and profitable market, but the market intelligence firm Numerator (Chicago, IL) has shed some light on who is buying these products and what is motivating them. The Numerator InfoScout OmniPanel is comprised of more than 450,000 American consumers, and tracks purchases from every shopping trip and dining occasion, says the firm. Sales trends cited below are based on sales of Beyond Meat in-store, and the sales of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods in restaurants.

A consistent observation coming out of the plant-based products space is that sales are not isolated to vegans and vegetarians. In fact, the majority of plant-based consumer are meat eaters. According to Numerator, 48% of meat alternative buyers have no meat-avoidant members in their household, and only 30% have a vegetarian or vegan in the household. Among the biggest motivators to purchase meat alternatives were to improve health (70%), curiosity (45%), reduce impact on the environment (41%), and for ethical reasons (32%). Vegans and vegetarians were the most likely to place value on the environmental and ethical impacts of the products.

Numerator also found that shoppers buying meat alternatives were typically high income, highly educated Millennials of varying ethnicities in urban areas. Of these shoppers, largely single and childless, 93% are purchasing these products for themselves, 45% are purchasing for a spouse or significant others, and 28% are purchasing for children. Feedback on meat alternatives was largely positive as well. Numerator says that 62% of those who tried these products said they were very or extremely satisfied, 83% said they would recommend them to someone else, and 81% said they would try other plant-based meat alternatives. In fact, word of mouth, specifically recommendations from family and friends, was cited as the top reason consumers heard about these plant-based meat alternatives in the first place.

While consumers are satisfied with their purchases, the majority of those who tried plant-based meat alternatives (49%) still preferred real meat, while 29% said they prefer meat alternatives. Despite their preferences, consumers are still motivated to shift their grocery dollars away from meat to plant-based alternatives. Numerator found that half of meat alternative buyers ate more alternatives, and nearly 40% ate less real meat in the past year. For example, sales of Beyond Meat grew 71.3% compared to the previous year.

The growth is unlikely to slow down says Numerator, as 80% of meat alternative consumers intend to replace at least of meat they consume. However, availability and options are low for some consumers, with 22% citing difficulty in finding plant-based meat alternatives in their grocery stores. It’s significant that most consumers are in urban areas. More retailers outside of major metropolitan areas should make an effort to stock plant-based meat alternatives and/or consider in-store displays and expanding shelf space to make these products easier to find. 

For brands that want to join the space, Numerator suggests prioritizing the health benefits and environmental sustainability of plant-based meat alternatives, since these are key purchase drivers. Considering the popularity of plant-base burgers and sausages, there is a great deal of opportunity in other plant-based meat alternatives such as poultry and fish imitations. Cost-effectiveness should also be a priority as the cost of plant-based products is a concern for consumers.