Oat Milk, Yeast And… Crab? The Foods That Saw Sales Surge In 2020

Food & Drink

Curious about the best way to break up the monotony of quarantine? American consumers have an answer: cook outside your comfort zone. 

Using data that tracks the largest year-over-year sales increases at supermarkets nationwide, Nielsen has identified the groceries U.S. shoppers clamored to buy during 2020, and not all of it is what you might expect. 

Pantries were stocked with essentials like garlic and condiments. Baking binges led to yeast shortages and a rise in demand for baking powder. But big winners for this year also include lobster and crab, as well as ingredient sales for cooking projects like egg rolls and sushi, which shot up.

One possible explanation, according to Mintel global food analyst Melanie Bartelme, is that items like seafood and seaweed sheets bring the restaurant experience inside people’s homes. According to Mintel, 45% of U.S. consumers who cook are trying more new recipes than they did last year.

“This could be reflective of consumers sort of saying, ‘I can’t treat myself to a special occasion kind of food that I normally would, but I can go to the grocery store. Maybe it’s finally time for me to figure out how to make crab or lobster,’” Bartelme says.

The resounding winners, however, were the more trendy alternatives: Oat milk jumped 200% for more than $249 million in retail sales, while meat alternatives more than doubled to about $230 million. Cheese alternatives round it out in the ninth spot, up more than 40%, while dried beans (a naturally vegan protein source) came in at No. 13, up 38% to $550 million in retail sales.

Here are the 15 items that saw sales surge in 2020:

1. Oat milk 

2020 sales: $249 million (up 208% from 2019)

2. Meat alternatives

2020 sales: $228 million (up 110% from 2019)

3. Yeast

2020 sales: $120 million (up 98% from 2019)

4. Crab

2020 sales: $1.4 billion (up 63% from 2019)

5. Lobster

2020 sales: $413 million (up 58% from 2019)

6. Couscous

2020 sales: $19 million (up 47% from 2019)

7. Egg/spring roll and crepe wraps

2020 sales: $29 million (up 46.3% from 2019)

8. Dumplings

2020 sales: $93 million (up 45.6% from 2019)

9. Alternative cheese

2020 sales: $239 million (up 44.3% from 2019)

10. Pizza crusts

2020 sales: $173 million (up 43.8% from 2019)

11. Baking powder

2020 sales: $65 million (up 40.8% from 2019)

12. Seaweed/sushi wraps

2020 sales: $13 million (up 40.7% from 2019)

13. Dried beans

2020 sales: $548 million (up 37.9% from 2019)

13. Soy sauce

2020 sales: $209 million (up 37.9% from 2019)

15. Garlic

2020 sales: $373 million (up 37.9% from 2019)

Data from Nielsen. Figures as of December 5, 2020.

Additional reporting by Margherita Beale.

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