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People Really Are Buying Plant-Based Proteins


The move toward plant-based or meat-free eating can sometimes get over hyped. The halo around plant-based food can often get in the way of the small percentage of people that actually eat plant-based foods on a regular basis. And given the coastal footprint of most plant-forward brands, plant-based foods can sound like something just for food bloggers in Brooklyn or San Francisco. 


But some new data shows that plant-based proteins are at least nearing an inflection point.

According to a new report from The NPD Group, shipments of plant-based proteins to foodservice operators is up by double digits last year. Shipments of plant-based protein increased by 20 percent in the 12 months prior to November 2018. 

That’s some major growth, and while NPD data showed that the West Coast still showed the highest volume of deliveries, it was followed closely by the South. It’s grown so much, that NPD food industry advisor David Portalatin said plant-based foods stand on their own. 

“Plant-based proteins are no longer just a meat replacement, it’s now its own category,” said Portalatin in a press release. 

The most popular form was, of course, the veggie burger. Burgers are the largest plant-based foodservice category. All the talk of the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger has brought the topic of plant-based food to every foodservice nook and cranny out there. 

Only about 6 percent of U.S. consumers identify as vegetarian, so the growth in this segment comes directly from the “plant-friendly” or “protein-agnostic” people that still eat meat, but strive to get more plants into their diet for reasons ranging from animal welfare to environmental concerns or simple health-consciousness. 

According to market research firm Nielsen, that cohort has grown to nearly 40 percent of consumers. In a report released in June covering 2017 sales, those consumers aren’t reaching for the tofu or granola. Also according to Nielsen, that group is boosting sales for all manner of plant-based replacements. Veggie noodles saw a 115 percent jump in sales in 2017. And Noodle’s announced at ICR that veggie noodles like their popular zucchini noodles (a.k.a. zoodles) was a “new pillar of the business.” 

Plant-based cheese alternatives also saw notable growth in 2017; sales jumped 45 percent in 2017. Plant-based yogurt sales were up 31 percent and sales of meat alternatives rose 30 percent, according Nielsen. 

If these trends hold true, 2019 could be a real point of inflection for plant-based proteins. And given the adoption by franchise restaurant concepts, American consumers will have a lot of new plant-based choices. 

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The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at




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