Plant-based protein: Beyond Meat, Kite Hill
Plant-based protein has been popular in product launches.

CHICAGO — Plant-based protein lately seems all the rage in new product development, but the market for dairy and meat alternatives remains niche, said The NPD Group. Only 1% of the population claims to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, and 8%, or about 27 million Americans, identify as flexible vegetarians, or mainly vegetarian with some exceptions.

Consumption of dairy alternatives has grown to 21 annual eatings per capita in 2016, up from 19 in 2013, according to The NPD Group. But consumption of plant-based meat alternatives has declined to 3 annual eatings per capita in 2016 from 5 in 2013. Comparatively, the average person eats center-of-plate meat 73 times a year and consumes milk 117 times annually.

David Portalatin, NPD Group
David Portalatin, vice-president and food industry analyst at The NPD Group

“Plant-based dairy and meat alternatives may not appeal to everyone, but today’s consumers are taking a personal approach in their pursuit of a healthy lifestyle, and plant-based alternatives are among the many choices at their disposal,” said David Portalatin, vice-president and food industry analyst at The NPD Group and author of “Eating Patterns in America.” “Expanding consumer choice and empowering them to craft their own path may provide growth opportunities for manufacturers and retailers in this space.”

In recent years, several emerging start-ups have introduced innovative alternatives to dairy and meat-based products that offer similar or superior taste, texture and nutrition. Beyond Meat, a manufacturer of meat-free burgers, strips, crumbles and single-serve meals, last year captured the attention of Tyson Foods, which through its Tyson New Ventures fund acquired a 5% stake in the company. Kite Hill, which makes premium nut milk cheeses and yogurts, received an investment from 301 INC, the business development and venturing unit of General Mills. Both businesses aim to appeal to mainstream consumers who may eat dairy or meat but occasionally choose plant-based products for environmental or health reasons.