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Progressive Grocer: Plant-Based Shoppers Remaining Loyal to Animal-Free Products

1st-of-its-kind research conducted by Kroger, 84.51°, PBFI

With U.S. plant-based food sales having hit a record $7.4 billion in 2021, new consumer research from The Kroger Co. and the Plant Based Foods Institute (PBFI), sister nonprofit to the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA), showed that plant-based shoppers are remaining loyal to the segment: 95% of plant-based consumers surveyed said that they had increased or maintained their plant-based spend versus the prior year.

“The research was conducted as part of Kroger’s long-term strategy predicated on listening to their customers,” explained Holly Adrien, the grocer’s natural and organics strategy and innovation manager. “Kroger is committed to learning from consumers and creating the optimal merchandising strategy for plant-based foods to best meet the needs of shoppers.”

Kroger collaborated with the PBFA on broad two-part research to understand actual plant-based shopper behavior and consumer sentiment, leveraging 84.51° data science and insights.

The Plant-Based Foods Migration Analysis, part one of the research, measured changes in plant-based customer spending in animal- and plant-based foods in five categories – milk, refrigerated and frozen meats, frozen meals, cheese, and yogurt – and revealed consumer shifts in engagement with each grocery segment. The second part of the research, a Plant-Based Foods Survey, probed plant-based consumer motivations for these shifts. Researchers evaluated purchases by nearly 8 million households over two years and broke shoppers into five segments: New, Increasing, Maintaining, Decreasing and Leaving plant-based foods.

Other findings from the “Plant-Based Foods Migration Analysis Report” are as follows:

In year two (2020-1), plant-based consumers generally decreased or maintained their level of spending on animal-based foods, a reversal from year-one (COVID timeframe) spending.

  • 43% of plant-based customers increasing or new to plant-based products choose plant-based milks over conventional dairy milk

  • 54% of customers who are buying more plant-based foods are motivated by personal health concerns (such as cardiovascular or cancer concerns), and 49% said they believe plant-based alternatives are healthier than animal-based foods.

Year-over-year sales of plant-based foods at Kroger grew 1.5% from 2020 to 2021, following a 24% rise from 2019 to 2020. The research found that plant-based-engaged households that bought plant-based foods in 2020-1 typically decreased or maintained annual spending for animal-based foods. The average plant-based household that either maintained or boosted its spending on plant-based foods decreased its spending on animal-based foods by as much as $28.21. According to 84.51°, this indicates that households buying plant-based foods are continuing to swap out more animal-based products for plant-based alternatives over time, and that the rising popularity of flexitarian diets may lower animal-based meat consumption.

“One of the ways we can measure the impact of plant-based foods is to understand the displacement of animal-based foods in favor of plant-based foods through comprehensive research,” said Julie Emmett, senior director of marketplace development at San Francisco-based PBFI. “We must remove barriers for consumers by understanding shopper dynamics and taking an evidence-based look to ensure shoppers can easily find their products of choice. We appreciate our long-standing collaboration with Kroger and its willingness to share these results on behalf of the industry.”

For its Plant-Based Foods Migration Analysis, Kroger and its collaborators classified each household from each target group into a migration segment by comparing spend in the post-period to the spend in the pre-period. The study additionally offers insights into plant-based category performance and a template for understanding which plant-based foods are associated with high engagement within the overall category. For instance, plant-based shoppers who upped their plant-based cheese purchases also had the highest total spend in the plant-based food category, while also being less engaged with animal-based foods. This means that plant-based cheese shoppers are among the most dedicated to the plant-based lifestyle.

Along with the observed shift in spending, the research featured in its second part a survey of plant-based shoppers to better understand the motivations behind the changes. Among the Plant-Based Increaser segment, the following was noted:

  • 43% are choosing plant-based milk instead of animal-based milk.

  • Almost 30% are choosing refrigerated plant-based meat and frozen meals instead of animal-based items in the same categories.

  • Almost 20% are choosing plant-based cheese and yogurt instead of animal-based products in the same categories.

When Plant-Based Decreasers were asked what would make them more likely to consume plant-based products, 64% said lower pricing and/or more frequent sales and coupons, and 58% said better taste and/or texture. Meanwhile, when Plant-Based Increasers were asked how shopping could be made easier, 61% mentioned price promotions and 29% wanted recipes.

“This research is a continuation of our years-long collaboration with PBFA using 84.51°’s robust data science to analyze plant-based food sales and the plant-based shopper to gain a holistic view of this market,” said Catherine Cowan, insights account manager at Cincinnati-based 84.51°, a retail data science, insights and media company owned by Kroger. “We look forward to using these findings as a benchmark to understand future growth of the category.”

Serving 60 million households annually nationwide through a digital shopping experience, and almost 2,800 retail food stores under a variety of banner names, Cincinnati-based Kroger is No. 4 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2022 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.

Click here to read the full Progressive Grocer article.

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