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No, the balloon has not burst, but the core has consolidated. It’s absolutely vital for manufacturers who are committed to the category to focus on their core consumer.

Plant-based products – especially meat – have been over-hyped and suffered from unrealistic expectations. While the balloon may be leaking, winning manufacturers and retailers will focus on the consumer.


Plant-based alternatives are a $7B+ business in the United States and clearly losing altitude. Alternate dairy milks are relatively strong while meat analogs have bifurcated with refrigerated sales plummeting and frozen sales holding steady. There has also been much discussion in the press from Bloomberg to The New York Times about the hype and faddish nature of the category.

“At present there are at least 13 states that have banned the use of certain ‘meaty’ names or terminology on plant-based food packaging,” according to an executive from JBS Foods USA, noting that this was part of the company’s rationale to discontinue Plantera operations in the United States.

Danone SA says it plans to explore strategic options for its U.S. organic dairy business, including a potential sale. These operations include Horizon Organic as well as Silk plant-based products.

A Nestlé North America executive has been quoted as saying, “I don’t think you’ll see a massive migration to vegetarian or vegan but maybe to this idea of 1 or 2 days a week that are meatless.”

But Kellogg’s has now reversed course and says it will hold onto its plant-based food group even as the category’s performance erodes — potentially reducing business value and appeal.

While many large CPG companies are exiting, smaller and more focused plant-based manufacturers are doubling down on their commitments to better understand the consumer. In fact, a consumer-centric view is the only way to win. This January, Cadent conducted a comprehensive study of plant-based consumers focusing on those shoppers who have lapsed or exited the category. In the charts above and on the next page are the key findings.

While these factors were also important among current plant-based buyers, there was a much stronger positive perception of price and taste among current buyers. If consumers believe in the underlying proposition of healthier, better for the environment and better treatment of animals, then taste and price issues appear less significant.


A broad demographic assessment of lapsed, plant-based buyers indicates they are most like non-plant-based buyers. These are consumers who were attracted by the hype, thought they’d give it a try, or heard about it from a friend. This demographic profile highlights some of the differences between current plant-based consumers and lapsed plant-based consumers.

—Most lapsed buyers would eat most anything and this is also true among non-plant-based buyers.

—Very few buyers actually self-identify as “flexitarian”.

—Plant-based buyers are more likely to be employed, have higher education, and higher income.

—Plant-based buyers are more likely to be urban, less likely to be rural.

The key takeaway is the need to understand your consumer. We have seen this lesson applied in “new age” beverage categories. When major manufacturers exit, nimble players focus on the consumer. They segment their market and target based on belief states, economic/educational profiles and other characteristics. It is absolutely essential that you attract the right type of shopper in order to retain these buyers and minimize the high category lapse rate in plant-based. The next phase of plant-based development will involve both more precise targeting and more intensive product development. The core has consolidated and it’s absolutely vital for manufacturers who are committed to the category to focus on their core consumer. n

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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