Higher demand for plant-based proteins is evidenced by the 19% growth in cases shipped of these proteins from broadline foodservice distributors to independent (1-2 units) and micro-chain (3-19 units) restaurant operators in the year ending March compared to same period one year ago, according to The NPD Group, Chicago. In-home consumption trends are also showing an increase in consumer demand with a 24% increase since 2015.

The survey also reveals that 60% of U.S. consumers want to get more protein in their diets, while 14% of U.S. consumers regularly use plant-based alternatives such as almond milk, tofu and veggie burgers. However, 86% of these consumers do not consider themselves vegan or vegetarian. The heaviest users of plant-based foods are those who are more likely to be on a diet or to have a medical condition, and consumers who tend to think of food as fuel, are more convenience-oriented than others and less confident in their cooking skills.

Beef alternatives make up 44% of the plant-based categories being shipped to independent and micro-chain restaurant operators and are the primary contributor to the total category’s growth. Burgers are the largest beef alternative category, but ball products, like meatless meatballs used as ingredients have outpaced burgers and all other plant-based protein formats in terms of growth. The strongest growth in case shipments of plant-based proteins to foodservice operators are the Mountain/Pacific Census Division (Arizona, California, etc.) and the South Atlantic (Florida, North and South Carolina, etc.).

“It’s clear by the growth of plant-based proteins that this category has mainstreamed beyond those consumers who choose a meatless diet,” says David Portalatin, industry advisor for NPD’s food sector. “Food manufacturers and operators have improved the quality and taste of plant-based foods over the past several years, and these foods are appealing to a variety of consumer segments for a variety of reasons.”