Is it possible that more Americans went meatless this Thanksgiving?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, frozen turkey inventories have tumbled in the wake of higher prices and supply chain disruptions, and are about 25% below three-year average volumes. "Turkey consumption over the last number of years is down across the board, about 20% over the last 25 years," Greenleaf Foods COO Adam Grogan said during a recent interview. Grogan continued that Greenleaf is seeing a surge in customer desire for more plant-based offerings overall, explaining that "93% of all new consumers that are coming into our space are actually meat eaters." Greenleaf is the plant-based division of Canadian consumer food company Maple Leaf Foods.
Last week, the St. Louis Federal Reserve published a study touting the virtues of a "soybean-based dinner" that, at 66 cents per serving, costs less than half of a Thanksgiving meal featuring poultry, and provides nearly double the protein. While the study was ridiculed by meat lovers, Grogan thought the announcement had merit. "We're seeing an explosion of plant-based roasts that are made for the holidays, both for Thanksgiving and the Christmas timeframe. In the last year, it's up about 48%," he added.
Forbes magazine estimates 4.5 million plant-based turkeys will be served this holiday as the nation's diet shifts. Currently, about 5% of the U.S. population identify as vegan and/or vegetarian while 25% say they are 'flexitarians' (a cross between full vegan and vegetarian with the ability to occasionally enjoy traditional meat.) Price pressures have also impacted demand. Turkey prices are up nearly 25% compared to last year, and nearly 50% over the five-year average through September, according to a recent Wells Fargo analysis of USDA data.
Still, plant-based companies are not immune to inflation or COVID-related challenges. Greenleaf Foods saw 6.6% fewer sales in the most recent quarter compared to 2020. In the previous quarter, the division reported a year-over-year sales drop of 20.6%. Meanwhile, Beyond Meat (BYND) cut its fourth quarter revenue guidance after a disappointing earnings miss as weaker grocery sales and higher prices dampened demand.
U.S. plant-based food sales grew two times as fast as animal-based food sales in 2020, totaling $7 billion, according to the latest Good Food Institute industry report. Within that category, plant-based meat itself crossed the billion-dollar mark and grew 45% in dollar sales from 2019. However, labor shortages at retailers and food services have "really stymied some of the innovation and growth that we were seeing prior to the pandemic." continued Grogan.
Following dramatic increases in plant based foods in the past two years, it seems 'meatless life' is heading into a more slow and stead absorption period. THe 'low hanging fruit' is done fuelled by early adopters. Now we are in the thick of it, the masses, the great bump in the population bubble that reads less, cares less and thinks less. It will become more and more difficult to convince this segment that sacrificing a bit of their natural pallet will have multi fold returns for their health, their souls and their children.