As the plant-based industry grapples with plateauing sales at retail, company leaders from alt-meat to tofu are turning a critical eye toward in-store marketing to boost household penetration.
“The industry has plateaued because it’s reached a level of maturity, and now it’s [time for] a bit of Marketing 101,” said David Knibbs, founder of The Tofoo Co, in a recent webinar from The Grocer. “We’ve seen this inexorable rise in penetration…and that [has] gone into reverse. Arguably it’s the line to shoppers that we’ve lost on that journey.”
In the same discussion, Fay Hasnip echoed this sentiment. Hasnip is plant-based product development manager at U.K.-based grocery retailer Tesco.
“I think brands should be really looking hard at themselves and how they can put that marketing spend in the right place so customers who may not have experienced their brand before can actually see it and come into the category.”
Across the pond, similar strategies are in motion.
As Green Queen reports, Beyond Meat doubled down on the health aspect of its product in a new October campaign, two months after launching its farmer- and health-centric marketing drive.
Similarly, Impossible Foods launched a nationwide marketing campaign in June 2023 — its first after 11 years in business. According to CEO Peter McGuinness, only 15% of households are aware of the company, which he attributes, in part, to this absence of marketing and merchandising initiatives.
“Demand is something that needs to be created day in and day out,” said McGuinness in a recent interview with AgFunderNews. “Awareness leads to trial, trial leads to repeat — it’s a natural progression.”
In-Store Visibility is Critical
As Knibbs observed, plant-based is a young industry and producers are still learning how to best merchandise the category and make it easier for consumers to shop.
According to McGuinness, having SKUs across multiple departments in the store bifurcates brands and creates confusion for shoppers.
“We have a shelf invisibility problem,” said McGuinness. “And it’s not just Impossible. This is a category thing.”
While challenging at times, Knibbs says getting products with in-display promotions on endcaps is a time-tested way to attract new shoppers who might not have gone down a particular aisle. “That kind of relationship is a massive boost for sales in terms of visibility,” he added.
Along with nationwide media campaigns, Impossible is focused on building out a retail execution team to zero in on these opportunities.
“The battle’s won or lost at the store, on the shelf,” said McGuinness. “It’s about getting more feature, more display, more merchandising, really going at point-of-sale material in a big way—lower funnel stuff.”
Marketing Beyond the Shelf
To Knibbs, a big part of Marketing 101 is observing what great consumer goods companies do—specifically, going out and educating consumers.
“Brands have a bigger role to play. We’ve got to put our money where our mouth is, believe in the strength of the quality of our products, and encourage people to buy.”
E-commerce channels provide an actionable runway for brands and retailers to utilize storytelling, clarify nutritional claims, and share recipes to make their products more user-friendly.
Furthermore, creating more events like Meatless Monday or Veganuary can also drive engagement and encourage the inclusion of plant-based products on more weekly shopping lists.
“If [a consumer has] five burgers a month and one became plant-based, the category grows 100% over next five years,” said McGuinness. “That’s the scale of this.”
“If a consumer is thinking about a plant-based diet [online Veganuary campaigns] offer meal planning, places to shop, and where to eat out,” said Hasnip. “I think [taking that pledge] is a really good place to start.”