Study: European Plant-Based Industry Grows 49%, Propelled By Record Demand

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The European plant-based food industry has grown by 49% within the last two years, driven by record high levels of demand across the region, a new study finds. The research, which represents the most accurate overview of plant-based consumer habits in Europe to date, also highlighted plant-based milk as the fastest-growing category in the majority of countries, overtaking plant-based meat. 

A new report released by the E.U.-funded Smart Protein Project has revealed the staggering growth of the bloc’s plant-based industry. The research, produced in partnership with Berlin-headquartered nonprofit ProVeg International, analysed previously unpublished retail data from Nielsen, providing what it bills as “unprecedented insights” into the European plant-based food segment and consumer habits in the “first and only report of its kind” to date. 

Every single one of the 11 European countries included in the report saw a dramatic increase in plant-based demand, averaging out at a 49% growth over the last two years across the region, translating to a total sales value of €3.6 billion (approx. US$4.35 billion).

Plant-based meat and dairy alternatives have seen sales surge across all European markets surveyed in the report over the past two annual periods. (Source: Heura)

Notably, the German market saw the biggest plant-based shift of all, with its vegan meat category growing by a whopping 226% over the same period to top €181 million (approx. US$218 million) in sales value, confirming previous research indicating that for the first time, German consumers identifying as full-time meat-eaters are now a minority in the country

Finally, we see the tremendous growth of plant-based food in Europe over the last few years reflected in numbers.

Dr. Kai-Brit Bechtold, Senior Consumer Research Scientist, ProVeg International

Plant-based meats also performed well in the French market, with 100% growth recorded within its discount store channels, and in the Austrian retail, where sales-value growth reached 82%. In the U.K., the vegan meat segment leads its broader plant-based food industry, and is among the most highly valued at €502 million (approx. US$470 million). 

The fastest-growing category of products across most countries in Europe was plant-based milk, with oat milk sales leading the sector, with the exception of France, where almond milk continues to dominate. 

Oat milk sales are leading the plant-based milk category (Source: Oatly)

In Spain, plant-based milk has surged double-digits to become the leading segment in the industry, with its sales value surpassing €318 million (approx. US$384 million), though its plant-based meat sector remains strong, bolstered by its successful homegrown startup brand Heura, who stands as the fastest-growing plant-based startup in Europe and has recently reported a tripling in its year-on-year turnover amid the pandemic

Other dairy products also recorded an incredible rise in demand over the past two years, such as plant-based yoghurt, sales of which grew an eye-popping 497% in Belgium’s discount store channels, and plant-based cheese sales increasing 165%, 150% and 140% in the British, German and Dutch consumer markets respectively

While the vegan seafood segment remains in its infancy, the research indicated a major market opportunity in the coming years, with German consumers leading the way to push sales growth in the plant-based fish sector to 623% over the past two annual periods

This report clearly reveals the huge increase in sales of plant-based food and offers a green light to the food industry in terms of pursuing more plant-based options.

Dr. Kai-Brit Bechtold, Senior Consumer Research Scientist, ProVeg International
Plant-based seafood will be a category to watch within Europe’s plant-based food industry. (Source: Novish)

Commenting on the results, Dr. Kai-Brit Bechtold, senior consumer research scientist at ProVeg International, said: “Finally, we see the tremendous growth of plant-based food in Europe over the last few years reflected in numbers. This report clearly reveals the huge increase in sales of plant-based food and offers a green light to the food industry in terms of pursuing more plant-based options.” 

Though the first report of its kind, the Smart Protein Project’s new study is just among the latest in a slew of positive predictions for the future of the plant-based industry in Europe and around the world. In October 2020, analysts at ING research estimated that the European plant-based meat and dairy industry will grow 10% year-on-year to reach US$8.9 billion by as soon as 2025

If this trend continues over the coming decades, plant-based protein alternatives could surpass sales of their animal counterparts by the mid-2050s, said ING research. Other reports have highlighted that globally, Asia-Pacific will be the region to watch, especially in the vegan meat alternatives market, which is forecasted to top US$21 billion by 2025


Lead image courtesy of Francisco Seco / AP.

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