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Here’s how you can apply a consumer/shopper journey approach to accelerate demand in the evolving plant-based category.

Growth in some plant-based categories slowed last year. This was most evident in earnings announcements from public companies including Beyond Meat and Oatly. While supply constraints and demand factors played a role, it is important to better understand manufacturer/retailer perspectives as well as the plant-based shopper journey.

A tour of Expo West indicated an exceptionally strong presence of plant-based products with particular emphasis on chicken and oat milk items. In fact, some were calling it the Plant-Based Food Show. There is certainly no shortage of supply —perhaps too many competitors — but breaking through the demand clutter was expressed as a key concern by leading industry marketers.

“If we can’t get distribution, it’s going to be very difficult to generate awareness and demand.”

“We haven’t been able to demo our products and that has been a real barrier.”

“We need to get a strong product block in-store to increase our presence.”

“The big brands have really locked in the space and it’s hard to break through.”

Cadent introduced the concept of the consumer/shopper journey for plant-based alternatives in last month’s article. Throughout 2022, we will be dissecting each of the five steps of the journey beginning with Demand Generation and incorporating insights from Cadent’s 2022 Plant-based study.

—Demand Generation

—Retailer Selection


—Item Selection


The journey begins with Demand Generation, which is typically assumed to be stimulated by manufacturer sales and marketing efforts. Our findings, however, indicated that “recommendations or word of mouth” rank No. 1 among all demand generation stimuli for plant-based products. The retailer follows with “exposure driven by previous shopping trip,” “came across it on-shelf” or “seen during a previous online trip.”

Ideally, marketing and sales efforts should have an integrated and cumulative impact on demand generation. Recommendations and word of mouth may come from actual experience with the product or exposure to advertising or public relations efforts.

Let’s now assess in more detail how reviews and recommendations can influence the actual purchase.

We provided further texture on reviews by assessing which of the following led consumers to purchase plant-based products. This is a focus on actual purchase rather than just awareness and includes multiple responses. Only 14% did no research prior to initially purchasing a plant-based product.

The tools employed for driving initial demand include retailer websites, lists, search, coupons and retail mobile apps.

Overall, demand stimuli are a combination of both in-store/traditional and online/digital media. In fact, when referencing social media, there are literally dozens of points of light that influence awareness including YouTube, social media blogs, audio streaming, online advertisements, etc.

Understanding how all components work together to drive a recommendation is essential. Translating awareness into actual purchase is also driven by recommendations or reviews. The power of the word, whether verbal or written, is essential to generating awareness and converting it to purchase/demand generation in plant-based.


Overall, plant-based growth accelerated during Covid and is expected to continue. We compared plant-based alternative and conventional product buyers during Covid vs. pre-Covid. Nearly 40% of shoppers bought more plant-based products and only 8% bought fewer products for a net positive score of nearly 30 points.

Conversely, for those purchasers who decreased spending on plant-based alternatives during Covid, the primary reason was economic: “I do not have the money, I am spending less on food, I am buying cheaper alternatives.” The concept of fewer benefits or placing less priority on health and environment ranked very low for these buyers.

Will Covid impact spending on plant-based alternatives in the future? The answer is a resounding yes, with a 29-point difference between purchasing more vs. less. Understanding how you can influence demand generation is all about the “word” — the word of mouth, the recommendations, your website, your shoppers. That’s our recommendation.



Don Stuart is a managing partner at Cadent Consulting Group, with offices in Wilton, Conn., and Evanston, Ill. He can be reached at don.stuart@cadentcg.com.

Don Stuart

Don Stuart

Don Stuart is managing partner at Cadent Consulting Group (cadentcg.com) with offices in Wilton, Conn., and Evanston, Ill. He can be reached at don.stuart@cadentcg.com.

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