The produce industry wants in on the plant-based trend, so what follows is a look at which shopper segments are using plant-based protein, followed by a snapshot of how the volume of hashtags related to the plant-based movement compares to those of other food buzzwords, from healthy to organic to local.

The Food and Marketing Institute mentioned vegetable protein in its latest Power of Produce report, noting that 73% percent of consumers sometimes serve vegetable protein instead of animal protein. Not surprisingly, millennials and Gen Z lead the pack.

Among those groups, 83% occasionally use plant-based protein, compared to only 59% of boomers, according to the report.

Income is another factor that affects inclination toward plant-based protein, with 80% of households making $75,000 or more using it, versus 63% of households making $35,000 or less.

Including plant-based protein is also more common in households with children — 81% compared to 66% in households without kids at home, per FMI.

Instagram hashtags

Additionally, integrating plant-based protein is popular among shoppers who engage in other produce department trends, including those who buy organic (86% use plant protein at least occasionally), those who buy local produce (85%), and those who buy produce online (86%).

“Leveraging nutrition attributes, including protein, is another important way for category growth,” FMI wrote in its report. “Protein is one of the most popular nutrition-related callouts across the entire store. The move to more of a flexitarian lifestyle has resulted in the rise of plant-based protein as an occasional alternative to meat protein, as evidenced by the survey data as well as retail measurement data.

“Nielsen found that plant-based meat alternatives have seen 20% growth over the past year, with sales topping $3.3 billion,” FMI wrote.

The plant-based movement is easy to identify on Instagram, where millions of posts include hashtags related to the eating style.

Here are some numbers as of April 23:

  • #plantbased — More than 21.6 million posts
  • #plantbaseddiet — More than 2.7 million posts
  • #plantbasedfood — More than 855,000 posts
  • #plantbasednutrition — More than 307,000 posts
  • #plantbasedlifestyle — More than 270,000 posts
  • #plantbasedathlete — More than 259,000 posts
  • #plantbasedvegan — More than 216,000 posts
  • #plantbasedliving — More than 215,000 posts
  • #plantbasedprotein — More than 203,000 posts

For comparison, here are some numbers for other trends that cross into fresh produce.

  • #healthy — More than 140 million posts
  • #healthyfood — More than 60.8 million posts
  • #healthylifestyle — More than 46.3 million posts
  • #nutrition — More than 40 million posts
  • #organic — More than 36.1 million posts
  • #healthyeating — More than 29 million posts
  • #organicfood — More than 2.4 million posts
  • #local — More than 14.1 million posts
  • #localfood — More than 1.9 million posts

Even though fruits and vegetables are plants, conversation around plant-based diets typically revolves around substituting items that aren’t plant-based with similar alternatives. Because of the popularity of the plant-based movement, however, produce has been looking to push its appeal to people exploring plant-based eating.

Cathy Burns, CEO of the Produce Marketing Association, addressed the topic at the recent Fresh Connections Retail event in Philadelphia. She encouraged grower-shippers and retailers to be bold in proclaiming that fruits and vegetables are the original plant-based diet and that the best thing someone can do to improve his or her health is eat more produce.

The Produce for Better Health Foundation is also clearly on board with tapping into the plant-based movement, having just changed its consumer-facing tagline from “Fruit & Veggies — More Matters” to “Have a Plant.”


PBH reveals new consumer marketing message: Have a Plant

PMA CEO urges industry to get produce in the plant-based conversation

Dole Bountiful salads offer plant-based proteins


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