Don’t be surprised to see more plant-based meat – the new and improved version of yesteryear’s tofu dogs and veggie burgers – sharing the refrigerated case with animal-based meat at your local supermarket.
Why? Because that kind of adjacency worked well for non-dairy milks like Silk, and rocketed plant-based milk to a 13 percent share of the retail milk market as of April this year, says Caroline Bushnell, associate director of corporate engagement for The Good Food Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit focused on advancing plant-based
alternatives to animal products.
In the early 2000s, Silk repackaged and relocated from the natural foods aisle to the dairy
case to be near cow’s milk in similar looking bottles and cartons.
“This merchandising change revolutionized the entire category” of plant-based dairy by putting products where shoppers looking for milk would find them, exposing new consumers to the non-animal alternatives, Bushnell explained in a webinar hosted last week by The Food Marketing Institute, a trade group for food retailers.
Plant-based milk is the most developed of the alternative food categories, at $1.9 billion in sales for the year ending in April. Overall, Bushnell said, retail sales of plant-based foods totaled $4.5 billion, up $1 billion from two years ago.
While U.S. grocery food sales increased about 2 percent this year over last, plant-based sales are up 11 percent over 2018, she said.
“We expect to see retailers increasingly devote more shelf space to these products,” Bushnell said.
And the lesson for sellers is to put the non-animal alternatives where shoppers are looking for the product category – plant-based meat in the meat case, not the produce aisle, for instance.
Bushnell offered photos taken at supermarkets already doing that, some using shelf tags to identify plant-based products interspersed among their animal counterparts. Others “integrate” but “separate,” with larger signs denoting a section as “Plant Based” and another as “USDA Choice Beef” in the meat case.
A slide with a “provocative” future view, as Bushnell termed it, showed a sketch of an expanded meat department – renamed “Protein Department” – with plant-based and animal-based meats side by side, along with an “animal butcher” and a “plant butcher.”
Two-thirds of U.S. consumers say they’re reducing their consumption of meats, Bushnell
said, many citing “general health motivations.” Younger consumers also cite animal
welfare and environmental concerns in wanting to shift to more plant-based foods.
Looking at the volume of products launched this year by big names like Tyson, Hormel
and Nestle, 2019 “appears to be the tipping point for plant-based meat going mainstream,” Bushnell said.
That’s also apparent in the fast-food realm, with Burger King, Dunkin’, Carl’s Jr. and
other chains successfully adding plant-based meats to their menus.
“This is a consumer shift, not a fad,” Bushnell said, noting some observers expect plant-
based meat to be 10 percent of the U.S. meat market by 2030.
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]