FMI – The Food Industry Association has released the first-ever “Power of Plant-Based Foods and Beverages 2022” report, its inaugural comprehensive review of the plant-based sector, addressing naturally plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, as well as alternatives to traditional animal-derived items. According to the analysis – the latest in FMI’s "Power of" series of category-spanning reports – nearly half (42%) of shoppers put either a lot or some effort into choosing plant-based foods or beverages.
“More than 40% of shoppers at least occasionally eat a meat, dairy or seafood alternative, but dairy alternative sales are more than twice those of meat alternatives,” noted Steve Markenson, director of research and insights for Arlington, Va.-based FMI. “The plant-based foods most likely to be regularly consumed by shoppers are naturally plant-based: fruits and vegetables (75%) and beans, nuts, or grains (47%).”
Shopper feedback pointed to confusion regarding plant-based foods and beverages and a lack of knowledge about the key attributes of these items. The majority of shoppers surveyed said that the word “healthy” came to mind when they thought of plant-based foods and beverages. Others associated plant-based foods with such words as “vegan,” “vegetarian,” “organic” or “natural.”
“Our ethnographic research suggests consumers are seeking out plant-based foods and beverages primarily for both taste and nutrition,” observed Krystal Register, FMI’s senior director for health and well-being, and a registered dietitian. “The food industry has an opportunity to provide guidance and educate consumers on overall healthy eating approaches that include plant-based options in alignment with the Dietary Guidelines.”
FMI VP Fresh Foods Rick Stein suggested how retailers might work with shoppers to better define where these categories appear in stores. “There’s no consensus among shoppers about where to find plant-based alternatives, which demonstrates the opportunity for both cross-merchandising in addition to creative in-store messaging,” said Stein. “For example, for meat alternatives, the top choice is not the meat department – it’s a designated plant-based foods section and the frozen foods section, followed by the meat department.”
The research additionally found that curiosity is a key characteristic of shopper experimentation. Millennials are more likely than Gen X and Boomers to put effort into choosing plant-based foods, and almost half of shoppers purchasing plant-based foods and beverages live in households making more than $100,000 and have children. Shoppers interested in these foods and beverages tend to have bigger basket sizes, but also shop online.
“As the lens of plant-based expands beyond meat and dairy alternatives and we see ‘plant-based’ marketing claims on food and beverage products, the segment is now worth nearly $10 billion,” said Sherry Frey, VP total wellness at Chicago-based NielsenIQ, which sponsored the report and provided sales data and analysis for it. “This research comes at a critical inflection point that will help the industry understand consumers and their drivers around plant-based decisions.”
The report’s comprehensive methodology included a consumer survey, digital consumer ethnography, consumer interviews, retail and manufacturer interviews and sales-data review.
FMI held a July 27 digital seminar featuring Markenson, Register and Frey, during which the report’s results were discussed, including the interesting finding that shoppers would rather see plant-based meat products in a designated section and the frozen food aisle than in the meat department itself. While analyzing shopper perceptions, Register and Frey noted the importance of “usability” in consumers’ adoption of plant-based foods and beverages – that is, figuring out how such products relate specifically to themselves and their families. Also during the hour-long seminar, interactive polls were offered to engage attendees, and some of their questions were addressed.