Dawn Valandingham is a contributor to Supermarket News and senior vice president of retail at SPINS, a leader in data and retailer soluitons for the natural products industry. She leads the SPINS Retail strategy, which includes innovative tactics around recruitment and retention of retail partners. Valandingham is also responsible for adding strategic partners that strengthen the SPINS ecosystem and reinforce its commitment to expanding and supporting the natural products industry.
By now we all know that 2020 was a year unlike any other — and hopefully one we won’t repeat anytime soon. Although it halted so much of our daily lives, it didn’t have the same effect on all trends within our industry; in fact, it accelerated some.
Take the continued growth of plant-based products, for example. For years these have been evolving and growing in popularity with shoppers, and that trajectory continued upward even as everything changed. SPINS data finds that the total plant-based marketplace is currently at $5.6 billion (SPINS Natural Enhanced + Multi Outlet channels) and growing 29% year over year, which is nearly double the 15% growth rate of the food and beverage market.
We know shoppers have stayed committed to their lifestyle and dietary preferences throughout the pandemic, and plant-based products fit nicely into diets for discerning shoppers. Whether they’re completely vegan, adding an extra meatless meal to their menus, experiencing food allergies, or worried about animal and environmental welfare, shoppers are finding options in plant-based products. Brands are responding by innovating beyond the typical frozen burger alternative (though even they continue to evolve) and introducing new plant-based products you’ll find in the shelf and in the freezer throughout the store.
These are the plant-based innovations you can expect to see attracting new customers:
Although meatless staples like fruit chips and produce aren’t going anywhere, snacks like chips (including pork rinds) and comfort foods (such as pizza bites) are poised to gain shelf space as they taste more like their animal-derived counterparts. There are already a few pioneering brands who have introduced these items to customers, but they’ve not been in the spotlight much. As more customers try to find ways to cut back on meat without feeling deprived, these pantry staples are an easy fix.
Many plant-based items have a reputation for being high in carbs and low in protein because they’re based in legumes and rice. While the products might be great, they don’t work for many diets, such as keto, where high protein and low carb content is ideal. That’s quickly changing with more manufacturers focusing on nutrient parity and ensuring label-reading customers are going to find the macronutrient ratio they want. Plant-based jerky is going to gain more fans as options expand with unlikely ingredients, such as jackfruit with added pea protein. This animal-free alternative to traditional jerky retains the low-carb, keto-friendly, protein-rich, and soy-free characteristics — perfect for a cross-section of diets. In fact, it’s growing at three times the rate of traditional jerky year over year, according to data from SPINS Natural Enhanced Conventional Channels (powered by IRI) for the 52-week period covering 2020.
Seafood and Cheese Options Expand
Beef and poultry alternatives are likely what most shoppers think of when they think of plant-based meals. Until now, seafood options have been limited — particularly because the texture and flavor are not easy to replicate. Fortunately, that’s changing, and ingredients like banana blossom mixed with algae provide a more fish-like texture as well as a superfood boost. Now, pescatarians who couldn’t make the shift to animal-free diets will have an easier time satisfying their seafood cravings.
Similarly, brands have struggled to win over customers with plant-based cheeses. It’s one item often cited as the reason vegetarians can’t go vegan. The SPINS Product Intelligence library has captured more plant-based cheese options added in the last year than ever before, with brands now expanding their product selection with the inclusion of shredded, sliced and block options. Looking at the change in dollars spent year over year, plant-based cheese outperformed its traditional counterparts at twice the rate in 2020. The shift to plant-based cheeses that fit a variety of meal occasions is happening quickly.
How Retailers Can Leverage These Trends
The expansion and innovation we’re seeing in plant-based products mean there are more points of entry for new shoppers and more ways to earn a higher share of wallet. Discoverability and promotions, both online and in-store, are going to be critical to help shoppers break out of their rut. That’s especially true for the newer items, like jerky and seafood, that are probably not on their radar and might go unseen if they follow their usual in-store pattern.
Find opportunities to highlight nutritional parity, how these items fit conveniently in today’s top diets, and the versatility in recipes. The plant-based category has evolved to the point that we can’t limit who we consider the plant-based shopper. We can now assume everyone is a potential plant-based shopper and educate them enough to see the possibilities. Between the innovation we’re seeing in plant-based products and the gradual return to less restrictive shopping measures, 2021 offers many opportunities to appeal to more customers and grow your business.