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The Wake-Up Call

It’s time to shake up your plant-based merchandising before your competitor eats your lunch (and dinner).

If there was ever a wake-up call, this was it: When Kroger placed all plant-based meat in a three-foot set within the meat department for 12 weeks, plant-based meat sales jumped 23%. Yes, 23%. This was between last December and this February – before the pandemic.


The study, done with the San Francisco- based Plant Based Foods Association, ran in 60 test stores in Colorado, Indiana and Illinois. In the Midwest, where more flexitarians are emerging, plant-based meat sales rose 32%. In the Denver area, which already had lots of plant-based consumers, plant-based meat sales jumped 13%.

When the full results were released in July, the PBFA said the research proved “there is tremendous opportunity for plant-based meats to succeed everywhere, including in the nation’s heartland.” Julie Emmett, senior director of retail partnerships at the association, predicted that “Other retailers are sure to make this change with this new data in hand.”

And Sean Brislin, Kroger’s merchandising director, noted that “Kroger continues to experience double- digit growth in the plant-based category, and this test demonstrates the viability of shifting product placements to reach even more customers.”

Common interview responses from shoppers included how “excited and impressed” they were about the many options within the new set. Nearly all shoppers presumed the plant-based meats would be in the meat department near their animal-based meat counterpart, explaining that the tests made plant-based alternatives easier to find and purchase.”

But there’s more. From March to June of this year, Kroger increased its plant-based customer count by more than 50% compared to the prior-year period. Kroger’s shoppers bought more often and in greater quantities, pushing sales up by 75% during this time.

Fact is, none of this should be news. Any fool knows that plant-based foods – in particular plant-based meats – have been gaining traction since the pandemic started in March. Vegan and vegetarian trends had already picked up beaucoup speed with more consumers focusing on health, sustainability and animal welfare. But with the pandemic wreaking havoc on meat plants, shortages soon blended with consumer fears about food safety and meat sales nosedived.

Now, of course, we have “experts” predicting we’ll all be vegan a week from Tuesday afternoon, perhaps shortly after 3, Central time. No, that’s not going to happen. But there’s writing on the wall, six feet high in bright red. So why aren’t more retailers taking direct action? Like, say, merchandising plant-based meats alongside animal meats? Giving more space to plant-based items?

If nothing else, look at where the big money from Big Food is going. Big Food is buying up the plant-based upstarts that are driving the best incremental growth we’ve seen lately. Even your barber knows that. And look at what Amazon and other companies are doing with home delivery, bypassing traditional retail.


No, this is not the time to throw in the towel. But it is time to beware of analysis paralysis, and to start taking specific steps to give consumers what they clearly want.

Just sayin’.

Warren Thayer

Warren Thayer

Warren is the Editor Emeritus, Managing Partner for Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer.

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