In 2020, the dairy and meat aisles are sharing shelves with more and more plant-based newcomers; and consumers are eating it up. If you’re like the 61% of Americans who want to reduce the amount of meat they eat, or one of the 43% who are willing to replace meat with plant-based proteins, you’re not alone!

The plant-based food and beverage market has been growing at a rate of 10%+ year over year and is expected to be worth nearly $75 billion in the next seven years. COVID-19 may continue to accelerate this growth, as more and more people are turning to plant-based alternatives and diets. 

I recently attended the industry deep-dive webinar Formulation Advances in Plant-Based Products with High Consumer Demand to learn more about some of the big trends happening in the world of plant-based foods. It was led by Matt Yurgec of Ingredion, who heads up their Plant Protein Applications team in the Ingredion Innovation Lab. Tapping into the green trends, we at The Sound want to dig deeper into the diverse motivations behind the growth in plant-based products.



There’s Been Significant Growth in Plant-based Products Across the Grocery Category…

  • 15% growth in plant-based meat substitutes per year over the past 2 years
  • 28% vegan cheese growth in the US in the past year
  • $1B industry for plant-based meat alternatives alone
  • $3B plant-based dairy (largely driven by kinds of milk, but yogurts & cheeses are growing fast)

…and Covid-19 has disrupted retail meat sales

From rising costs, stockpiling, supply chain issues, and lack of availability— the pandemic and its global impact have made it a lot harder for consumers to find and purchase meat.

Plant-based proteins are filling that gap

Sales of plant-based foods have spiked during the pandemic; the growth rate has continued throughout the year to date and is expected to continue to rise.


Making Good Meat Substitutes Isn’t Easy, but Innovators Are Crushing It. Why?

For meat-eaters looking to cut down on the amount of meat they eat, they prefer to have plant-based proteins that mimic the look, feel, texture, and taste of “real” meats.

This poses a challenge because plant-proteins function differently than animal proteins. It takes a lot of ingredient tinkering and science to find the right plant-protein formula to get the desired results.

Soy can do some things well, wheat can mimic some meats well, and other pulse proteins (think chickpeas, peas, beans) do others better!

Food scientists have to take into account properties like water retention, solubility, dispersibility, gelation, and heat stability in order to create a formula (whether fresh or frozen) that cooks, looks, tastes, and acts like animal proteins!

To create a winning plant protein product, brands have to think about the product application + plant protein functionalities in order to choose the right plant protein to meet (meat) their business and consumer needs.

Motivations Behind the Demand

According to Matt Yurgec of Ingredion, people are looking towards plant-based proteins and substitutes because of their…

  • Value per dollar
  • Dietary + nutrition benefits 
  • Environmental benefits
  • Shelf stability; it typically lasts longer than fresh meat 

Beyond the COVID-19 related concerns of food availability and supply chain disruption, people’s motivations for seeking out plant-based products are as varied as the alternatives you’d find on your grocery shelves. 

Consumer Motivations

Matt’s take got us thinking more creatively about those consumer needs, at The Sound. 

About 5% of Americans consider themselves vegetarian. You’re able to reach a much larger potential audience when you consider that over half of the remaining 95% of Americans are trying to reduce their meat consumption, while still getting a similar meat-eating experience! 

Impossible Foods or Beyond Burgers are setting their sights on the flexitarians and meat-reducers rather solely on the vegetarians/vegans. This is a strategic decision that opens their consumer base to a wider audience but can alienate some plant-based eaters.  Smart brands need to think about all the motivations for eating plant-based products, not just for that 5%. 



Bringing Motivations to Life

The Sound has some hypotheses about the different motivations for buying plant-based foods (and took the liberty of giving them fun names in the process). 

The Plant Pros

I fit in this category as a vegetarian (and sometimes vegan) of over 10 years.  Vegetarians and vegans like me often don’t want their plant-protein products to taste or feel like meat. We gave it up for a reason! Black bean burgers or other plant-based meats that put veggies first often appeal more than those that try to mimic meat more closely. Some of the more DIY pros will make their own plant-based alternatives, while others of us are happy to stick with the more “traditional” plant-based proteins that don’t try to be meat. 

The Reluctant Trier

These folks are carnivores at heart, but when grocery stores were unable to stock meat products due to COVID-19, passionate meat eaters started bringing home the closest thing to ‘real’ meat they can find. For them, it’s got to look, taste, smell, and feel as close as possible to their beloved meat for it to be added to their weekly repertoire. 

The Health Seeker

Whether they’re lactose-intolerant and looking to avoid the bloat and discomfort of dairy, or are trying to avoid a triple bypass, these people are looking to take a balanced, longer-term approach to their health — incorporating plant-based products into their diets as a way to improve the way they feel (but still including some healthier animal products in their repertoires, such as chicken and fish).

The Eco Trend-Setter

Motivated by their eco-friendly identities and the opportunity to set an example for others, these people will try ALL the plant-based proteins and will post about the ones that taste the best and are the most Instagrammable. 

We could go a whole lot deeper on consumer motivations fueling the massive growth of the plant-based category, but I’ll stop there! Reach out if you are thinking about creating a custom set of motivations for plant-based living specific to your product category.  Or if you want to talk about innovation & strategy in the plant-based food space, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you’re interested in learning more about human motivations and how they impact brands, check out
The Sound’s Motivations 101 Toolkit for Brands.


the sound logo
Written By:
The Sound

More by this author