Progressive Grocer Names Best Products: 'Plant-Based' Makes a Bold Statement
Taste will always reign supreme. If no one finds a new product appetizing, it doesn’t stand a chance.
But taste alone isn’t enough anymore. Consumers are increasingly being drawn to products that reflect their feelings about how food should be made, and how the folks who made it behave as citizens of the world. A product that tastes great but isn’t sustainably sourced may alienate enough consumers to doom a launch to failure.
This is being demonstrated in greater numbers by the entries in Progressive Grocer’s Editors’ Picks contest, with packaging claims like non-GMO, free-from statements and environmentally conscious brand stories among the hundreds of SKUs that crossed our desks this year.
And the tide of plant-based products continues to rise. While animal proteins are still making a strong showing, innovation around plant-based foods is accelerating.
And it’s not necessarily because veganism is growing. In fact, the demand for plant-based products is largely being driven by a rise in the number of flexitarians — consumers who historically eat animal proteins but are looking to reduce their consumption of meat and traditional dairy for various reasons, including health and concern for the environment.
Rising sales of plant-based foods, without a corresponding increase in the percentage of Americans who identify as vegan or vegetarian, likely indicates a greater overall interest in such products, meaning that U.S. consumers want to incorporate more plant-based options into their diets, but are unwilling to give up animal proteins altogether, according to the findings of a recent Gallup poll.
Sales of plant-based foods rose 8.1 percent in 2017, surpassing $3.1 billion last year, with plant-based alternatives to dairy products soon expected to account for 40 percent of dairy beverage sales.
But being the omnivores that some of us are, animal proteins made an impression as well. Moreover, other products won for convenience.
Of course, many products embrace multiple trends, making them even more powerful to retailers for driving sales. But they still all came back to great taste, which is what will keep shoppers coming back to them, over and over again.
Some trends among food products are impacting nonfood products as well, such as clean labels: "Simpler" ingredients abound in nonfoods, even in mainstream brands. Meanwhile, we’re seeing more alternative brands among cleaning products and pest repellents, while air care products such as odor eliminators and room sprays were popular this year.
This year’s food entries were evaluated by PG Editorial Director Jim Dudlicek, Senior Editor Kat Martin and Digital and Technology Editor Randy Hofbauer, with the able assistance of Advertising/Production Manager Jackie Batson and several other Ensemble IQ teammates from across our Chicago office. Nonfood products were evaluated by PG Managing Editor Bridget Goldschmidt, in the Newark, N.J., office.
In all, we selected 105 food products and 15 nonfood items (some grouped for review purposes) as our favorites. Read our judges' impressions here.