Whole Foods Market and The Kroger Co.’s King Soopers posted the best overall scores for plant-based food in an inaugural retailer ranking by the Good Food Institute (GFI).
GFI’s Good Food Retail Report, released yesterday, evaluated the top 15 U.S. food retailers for product assortment, merchandising and marketing of plant-based meat, eggs and dairy. Overall, GFI rated 23 grocery chains (100 or more stores each) owned by those retailers based on a five-star scale.
Whole Foods (owned by Amazon) and King Soopers led the field with overall ratings of five stars for their plant-based offering. Next with four-star ratings were Giant Food (Landover), ShopRite, Wegmans, Target and Fred Meyer. Chains earning three stars for plant-based foods included Publix, Kroger, Safeway, Hy-Vee, Stop & Shop, Harris Teeter, H-E-B, Albertsons, Meijer, Winn-Dixie and Vons.
Plant-based food sales are growing five times faster than overall food retail sales, and plant-based food shoppers are spending 61% more than the average food shopper, according to research cited in GFI’s report. Retail sales of plant-based food reached $5 billion in 2019, up 11% year over year, compared with a 2% gain for overall food retail sales, GFI noted.
“Top U.S. retailers are ensuring that all Americans have access to delicious and affordable plant-based meat, eggs and dairy,” GFI Executive Director Bruce Friedrich said in a statement. “We are reaching a clear tipping point, and no retailer wants to lose out to competitors with better plant-based strategies.”
Assortment grows across categories
Besides finishing first overall on GFI’s ranking, Whole Foods and King Soopers came in No. 1 in plant-based food assortment, each rating at five stars. Chains earning four stars in assortment were Wegmans, Ralphs, Fred Meyer, Hy-Vee, Giant Food (Landover) and Publix.
Whole Foods and King Soopers, respectively, offer 360 and 410 plant-based food items on shelves, approximately 50% more than other top retailers, who offer an average of 270 products, GFI said, adding that Whole Foods and King Soopers also offer expansive store-brand lines and a wide variety of plant-protein products in prepared food settings. Wegmans was the top performer in the number of plant-based products on-shelf, with 530 items, including twice the number of plant-based meat products and four times the plant-based cheese products versus the other retailers.
GFI named Whole Foods as offering the best overall plant-based product assortment, including at least one product from each category plus an extensive private-label lineup and foodservice selection. In the latter segment, GFI said Whole Foods provides plant-based meat in three times as many prepared food settings as other top retailers.
“Whole Foods Market has long been a champion of plant-based eating,” stated Jeff Turnas, senior vice president of global culinary procurement and operations at Whole Foods. “We feature a wide variety of alternative protein options across our store, including high-quality, chef-inspired vegan and vegetarian options in our prepared foods department, which includes our Chef’s Case, salad bar, hot bar and a variety of convenient grab-and-go items.”
The 15 top plant-based retailers had over 100 plant-based meat products across the refrigerated and frozen sections, and more than 80% of retailers offered at least 10 refrigerated plant-based meat SKUs, GFI’s report said. In plant-based milk products, the leading assortments among the top retailers had 70 to 90 items. Ice cream and frozen novelties, with an average 110 products per store location, beat frozen meat and milk for the most plant-based products in one category from a single retailer. About half of retailers carry a plant-based egg product.
King Soopers, part of The Kroger Co., was recognized by GFI for the best plant-based private-label assortment, with at least 38 store-brand plant-based meat and dairy products, the most among the top retailers. On average, the top 15 retailers offer 15 plant-based store-brand items.
“Kroger anticipates interest in plant-based products to continue to grow in 2020, with the category being one of the key drivers of our natural and organic sales,” according to Joe Grieshaber, senior vice president of merchandising for Kroger.
Chains give plant-based foods a spotlight
Giant Food of Landover, Md., part of Ahold Delhaize USA, took top honors from GFI for the best overall merchandising of plant-based foods. The chain also tied with King Soopers for best signage.
“Giant Food’s plant-based strategy stands out for its integrated or integrated-segregated merchandising of product sets with corresponding animal-based sets, as well as prominent aisle signage and shelf tags that use inclusive ‘plant-based’ language,” GFI said in its study, adding that the chain shelved multiple plant-based products alongside their animal-based counterparts in 10 of 11 product categories.
Both Giant and King Soopers rated at four stars in plant-based merchandising, as did Target, Albertsons, Meijer, Whole Foods, Ralphs, ShopRite and Safeway.
In merchandising, 91% of the top 15 retailers placed plant-based products alongside their conventional counterparts in at least two categories, and 65% offered at least one plant-based meat product in the meat aisle, GFI noted. Also, 57% of retailers deployed aisle signs for plant-based refrigerated or frozen meat, and the same percentage used shelf tags or icons to identify plant-based items in at least one category.
Seven chains rated at five stars for plant-based food marketing, including Whole Foods, ShopRite, Stop & Shop, King Soopers, Ralphs, Kroger and Target. GFI’s research found that 78% of the top 15 retailers ran at least one plant-based category promotion or marketing event, with 39% featuring plant-based products next to animal-based products in a promotion.
What’s more, 57% of the retailers spotlighted plant-based products in endcaps, displays or product sampling, while the same percentage included plant-based offerings in their wellness and nutrition materials. And to appeal to a broader audience, 65% of retailers used “plant-based” or similar terms in place of “vegan” or “vegetarian.” GFI recognized The Kroger Co. for its “Live Naturally” magazine, which showcases plant-based products as alternatives to animal-based foods, and Whole Foods for social media content, which regularly features plant-based items.
COVID-19 fuels already growing plant-based trend
GFI said some of the top retailers are “doubling down” on their own plant-based product offerings this year, fueled by rising demand among mainstream consumers. However, the report pointed that that lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic also have spurred demand for plant-based foods.
“We’ve seen significant increases across our plant-based offerings since the early stages of COVID-19,” Dan Epley, vice president of grocery at Whole Foods, said in a statement. “Our teams continue to work hard to maintain our leadership across these market segments during these unprecedented times.”
Kroger will launch at least four new plant-based product types in the second and third quarters, and Target aims to more than double its private-brand plant-based assortment in 2020, GFI reported.
Plans call for Kroger to add store-brand plant-based mayonnaise in stores in April, refrigerated salad dressings in June, produce dips in June, and cheese slices and shreds in August. In the second quarter, Target launched Good & Gather plant-based milks (almond and oat), ground beef alternatives (patties and blocks), frozen chickenless nuggets, black bean patties and falafel.
According to GFI, analysts project the plant-based food market to grow 28% annually, reaching $85 billion in 2030.
“Traditional meat eaters and flexitarians are embracing plant-based products, which means it is critical for retailers to employ plant-based strategies that attract the mainstream consumer,” observed Caroline Bushnell, associate director of corporate engagement at GFI. “Plant-based eating is no longer niche. Retailers are leaving money on the table when they isolate plant-based sets in hard-to-find sections or use exclusive category language like ‘vegetarian.’”