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This Grocery Category Is Exploding in Popularity, Experts Say

According to new data, the plant-based revolution is just beginning.
FACT CHECKED BY Mura Dominko

Plants are taking over our grocery store shelves, in what may be one of the strongest emerging consumer trends in the food industry. But we're not just talking about the produce aisle—they're in our snacks, beverages, dairy, and even "meat."

According to new data released this week, the plant-based food market is growing like a weed. You're probably already familiar with some of the biggest names the market, which have built their entire product lines around the promise of plant-based alternatives. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, for example, have been around since 2009 and 2011, respectively, and are now synonymous with the plant-based movement. (Related: Grocery Shortages To Expect in 2021, According to Experts.)

But this budding sector in the food space has gone beyond the new kids on the shelf. Established legacy food companies like Kraft Heinz, Tyson Foods, and Kroger are going in on the trend, too, with their own plant-based products. Taken together, all of this spells great news for the market, which is expected to grow by 11.9% in 2021 and eventually topple over $74 billion by 2027.

So what's behind this thriving trend? A mix of health-consciousness and environmental concerns, says nutritionist Ella Davar.

"Factory-farmed beef is definitely not the healthiest option due to pesticides from grain feed, and the use of hormones and antibiotics to prevent the animals from getting sick in cruel, cramped conditions," she says. "This approach is bad for animals, for human health, and it's also bad for the environment."

Eating less meat in general, Davar says, could help keep rising global temperatures at bay. "Our food system is the #1 cause of climate change responsible for almost 50% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than our fossil fuel industry."

While eating responsibly is traditionally more expensive and less accessible, the new products on the market are expanding the reach of plant-based alternatives. Beyond Meat, for example, is bringing their "beef" to Taco Bell by this March. Kraft's famous Philadelphia cream cheese is exploring non-dairy options, and Tyson Foods added meatless options to its Jimmy Dean Breakfast Sausage. There's even a company called Else that created a 100% plant-based infant nutrition formula—so truly, people of all ages can be a part of this wave. In Davar's mind, that's a great thing.

"Generally speaking I love the fact that plant-based eating promotes a high intake of vegetables and fruits," she says. "Shifting from a nutrient-poor diet to a nutrient-rich diet abundant in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains improves the expression of hundreds of genes that control insulin function and obesity."

So get ready for plant-based options to continue springing up across every grocery store aisle, in the coming years. On the other hand, this outdated grocery aisle may be on its way out. And don't forget to sign up for our newsletter to get the latest restaurant news delivered straight to your inbox.

Kaley Roberts
Kaley Roberts is a food writer. Read more