There is continuous and inevitable growth in the plant-based sector as consumer interest and needs evolve. For successful growth, the manufacturer will need to be smart, consumer-focused, and data-based. The key here is to commit to evidence-based data to guide decisions, to gain insight into the consumer, understanding of the retailer, and awareness of product competition. This exploration is essential; merely assuming is not doing enough.

There are 3 key areas on which a manufacturer should focus:

1. Know Your Product

It is important to understand not only the makeup of your product but how it meets consumers’ needs, how it stands up to competition, and how it will be beneficial to the retailer. This involves doing some homework.

  • What is your unique selling point (USP)? First, define what the USP for your product is – what makes it different from everything else on the market? Understanding how your product compares to the competition is critical here. How does it compare in taste, appearance, texture, smell, and most importantly cost to the retailer? What is the preparation and cooking experience? What kind of packaging does it have? Given these facts, what advantage will the product provide for the retailer? 
  • Innovation is important. Expand on existing technologies with soy and pea protein and consider new technologies and discoveries that are being developed from whole food sources like seaweed and watermelon seeds. These protein sources add unique product attributes but also a complete nutritional deck.
  • Consider consumer evolution. There is a lot of white space when looking beyond mimicking “real” or animal-based products and showing plant-based foods for what they are – delicious and nutritionally robust.

Know Your Consumer

Understand your target consumer from an objective standpoint. A common pitfall for manufacturers is thinking “from the gut” in defining who their consumer is and how they think. This exploration with shoppers is essential; merely assuming what they think and do is not good enough. Executing primary research with actual consumers will enable you to understand their perspectives; the problem(s) they are trying to solve, their awareness and thoughts concerning other products and brands, and their lifestyle and shopping habits.

If your funding is limited, consumer focus groups are a low-cost option that can be helpful in giving directional insight. If there is a desire for broader research, teaming up with a partner can help fund a more in-depth study. Secondary research is a good source of information to complement primary research. If you have never done research or don’t know how to start, there are resources that can handle the entire project, or just participate in the execution should you have internal resources that can manage the project.

Consider PBFA’s Members-Only Custom Consumer Research, an initiative that enables PBFA members to access powerful and timely consumer knowledge. With tailored, targeted insights that help businesses assess strategy, this research aims to help PBFA members identify new opportunities, and drive their businesses forward. Learn more here.

Know Your Retailer

All retailers are not created equal. In fact, each one has its unique way of doing things. Before you reach out to a retailer, do your research. Know what segment they operate in and their competitive environment, who their typical shopper is, walk their stores to understand their merchandising and go-to-market strategies, and understand what their expectations are for their vendors. Vendor expectations can include slotting fees, trade funds, promotional support (in-store and online), marketing support, category reset dates, and more. Make sure you know whether or not they work with a distributor and/or broker so you can factor those costs into the margin.

For more information about the steps to get started in retail that includes guidance on how to leverage industry and custom brand data in meetings, access to broker lists, product margin calculators, and more, check out the “How to Get Started in Retail” resources available in the PBFA member portal.

Last Thought

In conclusion, this is a prime time for growth in the plant-based arena. Manufacturers that bring understanding, as well as great products, will reach the winner’s circle.

Interested in gaining more expert insights to help accelerate the growth of your plant-based food company? Join PBFA as a member today!

Andrea Zweig Wagner is the Director of Brand Management at Peapod Digital Labs, a part of global grocery retailer Ahold Delhaize. In this role, she and her team are responsible for managing the 13 private brands across the organization. This entails ensuring all product, packaging, and messaging is “on brand” at every consumer touchpoint.