Q&A: Meeting the Needs of the Plant-Based Consumer

At Natural Products Expo West 2023, Store Brands spoke with 84.51°'s Shannon Weis to discuss the state of the plant-based consumer.
Zachary Russell
Associate Editor
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Shannon Weis 84.51

At Natural Products Expo West 2023, more than 3,800 exhibitors were in attendance at the Anaheim Convention Center to showcase their products and meet with potential retail buyers. A large number of them were plant-based brands and suppliers, offering show attendees meat- and dairy-free food and beverage samples.

Store Brands sat down with Shannon Weis, lead consultant and insights account manager at Kroger's 84.51° and spokesperson for the Plant-Based Food Association, at the show. She discussed the ever-evolving needs of the plant-based consumer, and how retailers and brands can better offer products to meet those challenges.

Store Brands: Describe the current state of plant-based food. Are you still seeing strong demand in the category overall?

Shannon Weis: We are currently conducting research on the state of plant-based foods, and we're looking at how it's changed from 2021 to 2022. That research will be released very soon.

Yes. We know from a research study we conducted with the Plant-Based Food Association on unmet needs and demands of plant-based consumers. From that, we're finding that different consumers have different challenges that need to be solved for for plant-based food. The three primary areas are taste, texture, quality. Convenience is also a big one, and so is cheese. Consumers are really needing more options that are convenient to eat on-the-go and convenient to prepare.

SB: Is there a demographic that is primarily interested in plant-based foods, or is the consumer base evolving over time?

SW: We do see that all age groups purchase plant-based foods. From the research that I mentioned, we're seeing that consumers are looking for different things based on the age groups that they belong to. For example, the younger demographics are looking for plant-based options that do not mimic animal-based products. Whereas, the more mature consumers out there are actually looking for plant-based options that do mimic animal-based products.

All demographics are shopping for plant-based foods, but we're finding that there isn't just one consumer of plant-based foods, and when you look across the generations, that's where you see the different consumers and needs that need to be addressed in the industry.

Kroger Simple Truth

SB: Is inflation impacting the plant-based products that people are buying?

SW: Cost and promotions are certainly important to all consumers, and certainly the plant-based industry is no exception there. We need to be mindful that consumers are seeking out options that are price-friendly, so how can you help motivate the plant-based consumers to continue purchasing plant-based solutions for their meals.

SB: How can retailers market plant-based products more effectively?

SW: I think it all starts with the data, and having that really solid view on who the shopper is: who is buying plant-based items and who might be willing to try plant-based items. It's important to tackle those pain points (taste, texture, quality) first with the core consumers who are already shopping for those types of products, and then you can start to think about how can you expand out and encourage more consumers.

Health is the No. 1 reason why consumers are purchasing plant-based foods, so starting with the lens of health is important, and with this research we found that consumers want fewer artificial ingredients, fillers and less-processed food overall in plant-based. They're looking for better ingredients, more nutritious ingredients and cleaner items for plant-based foods. When you think about what that might look like across the generations with our more mature age groups, when it comes to health, less sodium is something that is really important, so that's another lens that could be added for the innovation lifecycle of plant-based foods.