Plant-based meats pose private label opportunity

Lawrence Aylward
Editor In Chief
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Jim Wisner said 98% of alternative-meat buyers also purchase meat

If you’re a retailer thinking about introducing private branded plant-based meat products, the time is now, said Jim Wisner, president of Wisner Marketing Group and an expert in private brands, during a seminar Nov. 17 at the Private Label Manufacturer Association's (PLMA) Private Label Trade Show.

Wisner provided a vast overview of plant-based meat during his presentation at the Hyatt Regency in Rosemont, Ill., which was part of the PLMA"s Sunday Seminar program. He talked about the possible pitfalls of plant-based meats, from being highly processed to too costly, but acknowledged that the category is burgeoning and presents a viable opportunity for retailers of private brands.

Wisner advised retailers to team with manufacturers “to get engaged now” and be quick to market with products. He advised them to offer a range of products and to create a defined department in the meat section and/or frozen foods. Product sampling and consumer education are vital, he added.

“Don’t sit and wait and watch,” Wisner said. “You need to be there.”

Wisner pointed out that several retailers —The Kroger Co., ALDI, Wegmans Food Markets, Albertsons Cos. and Loblaw — have already gone to market with store branded plant-based meat products and are ahead of the game.

“So we have retailers going to market not after the market is established, which is kind of a change for how the private brands industry works … in a good way,” he said.

Wisner cited research from Research and Marketing showing that plant-based meats are the fastest-growing segment of plant-based foods with 23% growth over the past year. Sales of plant-based meats are forecast to reach $3 billion by 2024.

A challenge for plant-based meats, in an era where so many food and non-food products are moving to clean label, is that some of the products in the segment have a host of ingredients. In a slide, Wisner showed the long ingredients lists of Beyond Meat’s and Impossible Burger’s “bleeding” veggie burgers and noted, “They have to be highly processed to work.”

“[Plant-based meats] meet a lot of the lifestyle trends going on, but walks away from some,” Wisner said.

While he noted the environmental and sustainability benefits of plant-based meats, Wisner said the products are not necessarily healthier for consumers to eat, particularly being higher in sodium.

Wisner cited research from Kerry Research noting that 90% of plant-based consumers say they read ingredient labels, 83% of consumers believe that plant-based meats are healthier than meat, 73% agree that meat alternatives should mimic the taste of meat, and that 48% of consumers perceive plant-based meat products to be more processed than meat.

Wisner said the cost of plant-based meats could be a problem. He noted that Beyond Meat Burgers cost 63 cents a pound compared to about 25 cents a pound for ground beef. But some consumers may be willing to pay more for the protein-rich products as a way to eat less real meat, Wisner suggested.

Who is the plant-based meat consumer? Surprisingly, or maybe not, Wisner said 98% of meat-alternative buyers also purchase meat.

Citing research from Mindlab and The Good Food Institute, Wisner said packaging of plant-based meats should contain dark colors (like brown) and come in boxes and pouches. Key ingredients should be listed and packaging should have professional photography.