Top Trends at Expo West

April 12, 2022 |

Expo West was back in action last month, following a pandemic driven hiatus. The tradeshow floor was filled with more than 60,000 attendees, including manufacturers, retailers, and brokers, all excited to be in person and have a chance to connect with industry natives they haven’t seen in years.

This year’s show featured 2,750 exhibitors, including 625 that were exhibiting for the first time. The exhibitor booths aligned nicely with buzzing trends seen through keynote speeches and industry news, including a rising interest in functional ingredients, increase demand of sustainability/upcycling products, and traditional comfort foods leaning heavier into natural, to name a few1. Unsurprisingly, plant-based also continued to be a focal point of this year’s show, representing 10% of all booth exhibitors.2

It was apparent plant-based offerings were expanding their roots and new products will soon be hitting the marketplace in coming months. So, what continues to drive attention and focus on plant-based offerings?

Mass Appeal
While the plant-based trend is far from new, the demand and driving reasons behind the adoption continues to evolve. Sixty-two percent, or 79 million U.S. households, are now buying plant-based products. This is an increase from 61% (77 million in 2020)3. As the demand increases, the list of reasons that new and existing shoppers continue to engage with plant-based offerings is expanding. Some heritage reasons why people are choosing plant-based include health interests, environmental concerns, and animal welfare; however, some of the newer motivations include plant-based tech interests and dietary limitations.

Industry Drivers
Additional drivers of demand include flexitarian influence, mainstream acceptance, and growing innovation. Flexitarians (primarily vegetarian diet with occasional meat, or fish consumption) have grown, as COVID accelerated interest in health-forward protein alternatives. With this, more consumers are gravitating to thinking about how they can make more meals plant-forward.

Plant-based is also becoming more mainstream, as major corporations, restaurants and businesses are participating and including more plant-based offerings. This in turn accelerates plant-based recipe adoption, reach, and popularity, which then pushes manufacturers to innovate and align with the current marketplace. Innovation around new forms, bases, and texture, continue to pave new roads across several segments.

Market Snapshot
As the cross-channel market stands today, plant-based product growth has been robust, averaging +16.5% growth across the past three years. Although growth has slowed in the most recent year (+6%), there were several bright spots across departments and categories.

For instance, the refrigerated department, which represents the majority (62%) of plant-based positioned dollars, grew a strong 7% versus the previous year and contributed 83% of overall market growth. Vitamins and supplements, the smallest plant-based positioned department, also outpaced total growth with a 10% increase over the previous year.

Top Plant-Based Categories
Plant-based milks and meat analogs remain as the largest plant-based categories and represent a significant share of sales. Today, plant-based positioned items spread across 30 categories, up from 26 categories the previous year. The growing number of plant-based categories indicates manufacturers continue to target and expand beyond legacy segments, identify white space opportunities, and are actively working to secure their market share. Brands are also turning to innovation to pull share and costumer spend away from competing brands within existing markets.

Leaders and Laggers
While the total plant-based market is displaying growth, there are still category leaders and laggers in the industry. Refrigerated creams and creamers, refrigerated plant based milk and refrigerated juices and functional beverages were among the highest-growth segments, based on incremental dollar change.

Some of the larger plant-based categories, such as frozen plant based meat alternatives and refrigerated plant base meat alternatives, fell on the lowest-growth list. Both frozen and refrigerated meat alternatives, which ranked in the top three largest plant-based categories, shrank (-2%) versus the previous year. This highlights even more established segments can soften and are impacted by the change in demand/consumer spend being shifted to other plant-based developing sections of the store.

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