Do grocers need a new approach for selling plant-based protein alternatives?

Discussion
Photo: Wicked Kitchen Facebook page
Sep 21, 2022

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer magazine.

The growth in plant-based foods is not being driven by vegans or vegetarians, but consumers who want to eat less meat and dairy for health or planetary reasons. New to the segment, they’re in desperate need of education in several areas.

What can retailers do? First, says Pete Speranza, CEO at Wicked Kitchen, a maker of plant-based meals, sauces and snacks, “They need to celebrate these products more. Explain why you added them and exactly how they’re helping the planet.” Not only does it help grocers look good, shoppers may feel good about a purchase that may or may not cost a bit more.

Second, “We can’t pretend that consumers know how to prepare plant-based food,” says Mr. Speranza. Retailers can teach them with information about swaps, cooking videos, demos, recipes and a knowledgeable staff.

Grocers can also make it easier for shoppers to find plant-based products through signage, shelf tags and marketing efforts. Rather than calling out products as vegan or vegetarian (since most consumers identify as neither), “retailers can appeal to more customers by using inclusive terms such as ‘plant protein’ or ‘plant-based,’” says Marika Azoff, a member of the corporate engagement team at the Good Food Institute (GFI).

While some chains have successfully created dedicated plant-based sections, the industry is moving toward integration with similar animal-based products.

In fact, says Julie Emmett, senior director of marketplace development at the Plant-Based Food Association (PBFA), a PBFA study at Kroger in 2020 found that sales of plant-based meat jumped 23 percent when they were merchandised in the refrigerated meat set alongside their conventional counterparts.

Ms. Azoff said, “By merchandising plant-based meat, eggs and dairy alongside their conventional counterparts…retailers can make plant-based more accessible to the many shoppers who purchase both.”

While near-term growth is supported by heightened attention to planetary, personal and animal health, raising the bar with bolder flavors, better textures and nutritional benefits may help take it to mass appeal.

Ms. Emmett said, “While animal meat is limited to products that’ve been in stores for decades, there’s no limit to what plant-based meat can be or made of.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do grocers have to reset their approach to plant-based foods with the category’s increased mainstream appeal? What do you think of integrating plant-based and animal-based offerings in store, no longer overtly messaging to vegans and vegetarians and other suggestions cited in the article?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Many grocers would benefit from simplifying the category – reducing the SKUs to the real heroes so consumers can easily find and try core products."
"The write-up sounds like the disappointing sales of plant-based meat is the retailer’s fault – hardly the case."
"As long as they are growing pains and not slowing pains, the merchandising strategy and category leaders will sort themselves out."

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13 Comments on "Do grocers need a new approach for selling plant-based protein alternatives?"


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Katie Thomas
BrainTrust

Is there increased mainstream appeal? At least to the degree of the sheer influx of products we’ve seen come on-market? While I agree that the messaging doesn’t need to be around vegans or vegetarians, many grocers would benefit from simplifying the category – reducing the SKUs to the real heroes so consumers can easily find and try core products.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Retailers can certainly provide more information, especially in terms of recipes and cooking information. They can also make it easier to locate plant-based items. However there is a balance to be struck here. Meat still accounts for the vast majority of sales and no sane retailer is going to push plant-based down the throats of their consumers. This is especially so since there has been a real slowdown in growth, and even some declines, in the plant-based category. I am sure, over the long term, plant-based will increase market share but the category needs to improve price points, taste profiles, textures, clean ingredients, and all sorts of things if it wants to grow over the longer-term.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

In addition to optimizing assortment in the category, retailers would do well to create awareness and educate mainstream consumers on these products. I’m sure suppliers would be willing to contribute their knowledge and expertise both in-store and on retailer apps so that shoppers are better informed. I think this would lead to more shoppers being more comfortable about buying into this category more often.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust
Richard Hernandez
Director of Commerce
6 days 1 hour ago

I have had many conversations with plant-based food vendors and while most would agree that we would set their products in the conventional areas (whether perishable or shelf stable) the issue continues to be, how will we sell this type of product to mainstream customers? While there has been a customer for this product for years, the growth has to come from new customers to the category. Taste is something that customers will not be able to bypass, and they will no longer sacrifice taste as maybe they once did in the past because it was good for you.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

The suggestions in today’s discussion are excellent. They recognize that the potential market for those with environmental concerns far outweighs the target market of vegans.

The reset discussed reminded me of the Silk story. Silk didn’t need refrigeration, so grocers stacked it on center-store shelves. Then an insightful person at Silk said, “Let’s put it in the milk section.” The rest is history.

Carol Spieckerman
BrainTrust

I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Emmett on my podcast and, even as a plant-based consumer, I learned quite a bit. It’s clear that veg-curious consumers and flexitarians are the future growth drivers for plant-based products. Impossible Foods’ new CEO, Peter McGuinness gets this (however controversial his large-scale marketing strategy might be among purists). Even so, the plethora of plant-based products hitting the market begs for careful curation and merchandising on the part of retailers. I was shopping for Impossible Beef (the new moniker) in a local grocer last week and finally found it — merchandised right under the live lobster tank!

David Spear
BrainTrust

As with any new product entering a market and an individual store, education is necessary for consumers to gain awareness, test, trial, and adopt. It’s not enough just to throw the product on the shelf and wish it’s going to be purchased. Entire campaigns need to be developed and executed for several years. I’m no vegan, but I wouldn’t hesitate to test new plant-based products that highlight valuable benefits that I might be missing out on by eating a juicy steak.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

The write-up sounds like the disappointing sales of plant-based meat is the retailer’s fault – hardly the case. Anything can be merchandised better and it probably does make sense to integrate with animal-based products. But all that said, the stuff has to be cheaper and better tasting before we can justify the space and attention.

Evan Snively
BrainTrust

As long as they are growing pains and not slowing pains the merchandising strategy and category leaders will sort themselves out. I agree with the recommendation to place a handful of SKUs in the same place as the real meat so it becomes part of the consideration process, even if it is passed over. Exposure and exploration will help the category long-term.

Al McClain
Staff

From personal experience, taste of these products varies widely. Consumers may be willing to give them a try, but a couple of bad taste experiences can turn them off entirely. I’d suggest retailers really dig into studies on taste and focus on those products and product lines that their shoppers will actually enjoy, and come back for more.

Carol Spieckerman
BrainTrust

Plant-based trial-and-repeat can be particularly sensitive depending on shoppers’ mindsets going in (from “prove it” to “I really want to like this!”). I enjoy making plant-based product recommendations to curious friends and associates for that reason. My adoption rate is quite high as a result! 🙂

Raj B. Shroff
BrainTrust
It doesn’t seem any retailers have a thoughtful strategy; the category just doesn’t seem that important to them. I am a vegetarian and am pretty engaged in this category. I shop Giant Eagle, Kroger, Meijer, Fresh Thyme and Target. The plant-based categories are all in different locations, have vastly different assortments, are frequently out-of-stock and rarely are signed at all. First and foremost it has to be treated like a category, it doesn’t seem to be, it’s really a mess. It seems like integration intro traditional sets makes sense as it makes it highly visible to mainstream shoppers. Maybe it’s why Annie’s is next to Kraft at Kroger, whereas several years ago it was only in their “organic/healthy” aisle. From a messaging standpoint it seems like the reason people try it is to have one less red meat meal … so communicate what it is, a meal-alternative. For out of store, seems likely there are visible patterns of shopper evolution into plant-based, you look to affinity items and then market to those folks with the… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest

…they’re in desperate need of education in several areas. Um…really? That may be true — or not — but I don’t think I’d phrase it quite that way: the line between helpful and patronizing is a thin one. (Mr. Sperenza’s comments seem particularly troubling).

Without more data on trends, it’s difficult to say what changes, if any, are needed: perhaps sales in the category aren’t what someone thinks they should be, but “consumers need to be educated” is often a substitute for the fact that people just don’t want what you’re selling.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Many grocers would benefit from simplifying the category – reducing the SKUs to the real heroes so consumers can easily find and try core products."
"The write-up sounds like the disappointing sales of plant-based meat is the retailer’s fault – hardly the case."
"As long as they are growing pains and not slowing pains, the merchandising strategy and category leaders will sort themselves out."

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