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Make Plant-Based Products Mainstream

105745471| Trong Nguyen | Dreamstime

The plant-based movement isn’t just about diets and values these days; it’s a part of the national policy dialogue on environment, climate, infrastructure and more. Politics aside, health remains the key reason consumers are attracted to plant-based products. And the number of those consumers is on the rise.

According to a study from L.E.K. Consulting, 51% of Americans have adopted a restrictive diet focused on increased consumption of plant-based products. Although food allergies or intolerances drive some of these diets, others—paleo and flexitarian, for example—are lifestyle choices consumers make to achieve greater well-being.

Plant-based makes good business sense too. Research conducted on behalf of the Plant Based Foods Association and The Good Food Institute found that U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods increased by double digits in 2020, bringing the category’s market value to $7 billion.

According to the study, plant-based product sales grew twice as fast as the overall retail food market, which increased 15% in 2020. Additionally, dollar sales of plant-based foods grew more than 25% in every U.S. census region. Indeed, 57% of American households now buy plant-based alternatives to animal products—up from 53% in 2019.

Any way you slice it, in all areas of retail (including micro markets), consumers are buying healthier food products that suit their plant-based or vegan preferences. The time for micro market operators to offer plant-based products is now.

Make the Distinction

Plant-based and vegan are complementary, not interchangeable. Whereas the parameters of a vegan diet are fairly specific, a plant-based diet is flexible, and followers tend to modify it to their liking—as long as plants are at the forefront.

The Culinary Institute of America’s Plant-Forward Kitchen initiative uses the term “plant-based’ to refer to the ingredients and foods themselves: think fruits and vegetables; whole grains; beans, other legumes (pulses) and soy foods; nuts and seeds; plant oils; and herbs and spices. Plant-based also can indicate “vegan or vegetarian dietary patterns,” CIA says. As defined by Healthline, “plant-based” refers to a diet that either solely or primarily consists of plant foods. A plant-based diet also may exclude oils and processed packaged foods.

CIA defines vegan as “dishes or dietary patterns that do not contain any ingredients that come from animals” and “individuals who do not eat any ingredients that come from animals.” Per Healthline, vegan “reaches beyond diet and also describes the lifestyle that one chooses.” Vegans not only exclude animal products from their diets; they also “typically avoid purchasing items that were made from or tested on animals.”

Given that 39% of Americans are actively trying to eat more plant-based foods and that 3% of Americans identify as vegan—up an astounding 600% from 2015 to 2018 alone—it behooves operators to appropriately identify products they carry that can be classified as either plant-based or vegan.

Update Your Planogram and Marketing

Today, many restaurants are dedicating 10% to 15% of their menus to plant-based options. This is a good range for micro markets to target as well when deciding what to inventory. Be sure to advertise these options with POS signage, on your market apps and in your sales materials.

For example, 7-Eleven, Inc. has prioritized healthier options with its Sips + Snacks program. Last summer’s rollout of 84 exclusive products has made the nation’s largest c-store operator a destination for anyone “following a keto, paleo, vegan, organic, gluten-free or plant-based diet—or just looking for a new snack.” It also signals an important lesson for all micro market operators: Refresh your offerings often—and be sure to publicize it.

On-the-Go Options

There's no denying that plant-based snacking is all the rage, and there’s a wide variety of portable choices that can satisfy that hunger. Better still, these options are perfectly suited to micro markets.

Popular plant-based snacks packaged for on-the-go consumption include hummus, seaweed crisps, organic oatmeal, pitted black or kalamata olives, walnut butter and shelled pistachios, along with baked tofu bars (a beef jerky alternative), almond yogurt, lupin beans, organic cooked beets and sprouted seeds (flax, sunflower and sesame, e.g.). Plant-based protein bars made with natural ingredients such as seeds, fruit, nut butters and various vegan-friendly protein powders also are widely available.

Consider offering a few of these options now, to see what resonates with customers. Thanks to the micro market’s open-field environment, you can always add more.

Soy, Almond or Oat Milk with That?

One of the biggest trends in the hot beverage market that’s gained traction in office coffee service over the past few years is plant-based creamers. In fact, plant-based varieties are now widely available both in coffeehouses and on supermarket shelves.

Dunkin' continues to keep pace with this trend. The QSR has offered soy milk to customers since 2008 and added almond milk in 2014. Just last month, Dunkin’ expanded its nondairy creamer options to include coconut milk—yet another sign that demand for plant-based milk alternatives isn’t slowing down. Operators providing coffee service at their markets should be offering such options as well.

Clearly, the plant-based movement is here to stay. Providing a wider variety of plant-based products can help ensure your micro market becomes a go-to destination for the increasing number of consumers who need or prefer them.

Looking for more plant-based inspiration? See how other foodservice operators and manufacturers are refining their offerings to meet consumer demand.

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