How Did Fake Meat Sell During Pandemic?

Empty meat cases during March ( FJ )

Both refrigerated and frozen plant-based meat alternatives saw robust sales growth during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s according to an analysis by 210 Analytics and IRI, a data analytics and research company. While the plant-based category saw growth, it is important to note both dollar and volume sales of fake meats remain a fraction of the traditional total fresh and frozen meat sales.

“Meat alternative (fresh plus frozen) sales have seen tremendous gains throughout since early March when coronavirus upended many grocery shopping patterns,” says Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210Analytics. “Dollar and volume sales gains versus the same week in 2019 have been in the double-digits for 13 weeks running.”

That sales data for fake meats is similar to the trend seen for traditional meats. Through May 24, meat department dollar sales were up 24.7%, double-digit growth for 11 consecutive weeks, according to IRI. “This reflects an additional $5.8 billion sold versus the same time period in 2019,” Roerink said. “Year-to-date volume sales through May 24 were up 17.3% over the same period in 2019, reflecting an additional 1.2 billion pounds of meat and poultry sold versus the same time period in 2019.”

For the plant-based proteins, year-over-year sales gains peaked during the first of the two panic buying weeks with an increase of 152% versus the same week in 2019. Since, there have been small fluctuations, but sales gains tapering off since the middle of May, Roerink said.

“Volume sales (for plant-based) have had a strong performance as well with gains peaking during the panic-buying weeks, at +135% versus the same week in 2019,” Roerink said. “Volume sales gains have trailed dollar gains since the onset of COVID-19. The gap was at its widest during the week ending May 17, at 15 percentage points and narrowed slightly Memorial Day week, at 13 points — signaling continued inflationary pressure.”

Interestingly, sales of frozen plant-based proteins exceed that of refrigerated plant-based product the week prior to the Memorial Day holiday.

“During the week ending May 24, frozen plant-based meat alternatives generated just shy of $15 million in sales versus just over $10 million for refrigerated plant-based meat alternatives,” Roerink said. “For comparative purposes, meat generated more than $1.5 billion in sales this same week. To provide a frame of reference, refrigerated plant-based meat alternative sales are virtually equal to those of fresh lamb, each generating just over $10 million in sales during the week of May 24.”

Throughout the pandemic, however, Roerink says refrigerated plant-based meat alternatives have consistently outpaced their frozen counterparts in dollar and volume growth. Refrigerated alternatives reached a high of +258% during the first of the two panic-buying weeks and gains have since averaged around +120% versus the same week year ago, with a slight drop during the most recent week. However, even pre-Pandemic in March, refrigerated meat alternatives were also posting triple-digit year-over-year increases.

Comparing the dollar sales of traditional meat department proteins with alternative, plant-based products, however, shows the fake variety has gained very little, if any ground during the pandemic.

“As a percentage of the total (meat department sales plus refrigerated plant-based meat alternative sales), the share for plant-based alternatives stood at 0.66% during the week ending March 1. The share for plant-based meat alternatives has since dropped to a low of 0.50% during the week of April 12,” Roerink says.

Tight meat supplies pulled meat dollar sales down in recent weeks, leaving refrigerated plant-based alternatives at 0.66%, with traditional meats garnering 99.34% of consumer dollars spent on proteins.

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