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Convert triers into buyers

Plant-based is all the rage, but grocers can’t rely on a one-size-fits-all strategy to grow demand

Grocery stores have experienced their fair share of fads. With the growing interest in plant-based meat alternative products, grocers have to be asking themselves if this category has a real chance of becoming a daily part of consumer diets. For all the marketing, planning and shelf space Canadian grocers are investing in these products, the industry hopes they will—and there are steps they can take now to nurture this burgeoning category.

To determine the right course of action, grocers need a better understanding of the types of consumers who are buying these products. Once grocers know who they are trying to reach, they can start to develop marketing strategies and in-store promotions to serve them.

By taking a deep dive into the available consumer data on alternative meat products and cross-referencing those findings with the major consumer segments, we find there are two main groups of buyers for these foods. The first one is a highly-dedicated group of consumers (call them “Meat Alternative Advocates”) who have fully bought into the plant-based protein concept. The other group of consumers (we’ll call them “Inquisitive Triers”) are highly intrigued by these products, but haven’t fully committed to making them part of their regular food purchases.

The Meat Alternative Advocates segment represents an important set of consumers for this category. While their market penetration isn’t as extensive as the Inquisitive Triers, the consumers who do buy these products buy a lot of them. They tend to be middle-income families based in both urban and suburban areas. Interestingly, they also consume a lot of fresh meat, which suggests they aren’t rejecting meat for meat alternatives—they are eating both.

The Inquisitive Triers segment is not easy to pin down. While a large group of consumers, they tend to make small purchases in this category. What sets these consumers apart is their willingness to try new things and a desire to feel different from others. These insights may also help explain why this group is slightly more likely to buy organic products.

Given the marketing push for these products has mostly focused on climate-related issues, I anticipated these products would appeal to vegetarians who care deeply about the environment. It turns out neither segment includes an unusually high number of households we would consider to be vegetarian or have a heightened concern for the environment. That’s good news for grocers, because it suggests these products don’t just cater to a niche audience; they have mass appeal.

Based on these findings, grocers will want to consider two distinct approaches to appeal to these two consumer types. Stores catering to a large population of Meat Alternative Advocates may consider positioning these products in their fresh meat section. These consumers don’t appear to make a sharp distinction between meats and their plant-based competition. Stores shouldn’t either.

Grocers will also want to pursue a promotion plan that makes it easier for shoppers to enjoy plant-based proteins by offering things like recipe ideas and summer barbecue tips. It will also be important to encourage multiple purchases by promoting a greater variety of plant-based products.

The opposite approach is needed to appeal to Inquisitive Triers. Mixing these products in with meat may not be as effective with this segment. Instead, grocers need to create new opportunities to convince more of these consumers to try these plant-based proteins. Carving out space for these products near the organics might be worth considering. Remember, they like to try new products, so it’s essential to make sure they feel they are purchasing something unique. These consumers will also require additional incentives to try the category such as high-value coupons, discount prices in a flyer, or in-store samples.

When marketing these products, don’t overemphasize the health or environmental factors. While it may play a role, there is not a lot of data available to suggest these high-value consumer segments are buying these products solely for those reasons. Consumers buy products they enjoy; they don’t seem to care if it’s meat or a plant-based alternative protein. They can and will choose both.

Where do we go from here? Knowing which households belong to different segments and where they live will help grocers match their product selection and marketing to the neighbourhoods they serve. It will also help them target messages and promotions directly to these consumers, improving the chances to convert them from triers to buyers. Grocers have a real opportunity to influence usage, so long as they understand the different consumer groups and how to engage them effectively.

Joshua Levi is a vice-president at Environics Analytics who focuses on the grocery sector and consumer packaged goods.

This column appeared in Canadian Grocer’September/October issue.

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