While the food landscape continues to change due to the lasting effects of the pandemic, the shifts in the economic landscape, and changes in generational needs and innovation in general, educating consumers and strengthening partnerships between plant-based companies and food retailers has never been more vital. The Plant Based Foods Association’s Marketplace Development program seeks to encompass these essential strategies as pillars of its work. In this vein of education and partnership, PBFA continued its participation in Kroger’s Wellness Associate Resource Group’s VegFest on July 18th, 2023.

Kroger has held this event for its corporate associates since 2018. PBFA involvement began in  2019 and continued through years of virtual VegFests to support Kroger’s remote workforce. VegFest 2023 marked the event’s return to the in-person format and was Kroger’s first in-person supplier event since March 2020. The event’s goal remained the same: showcase unique plant-based foods across categories, allow Kroger associates to sample and learn about the benefits of plant-based foods, and provide an authentic opportunity for PBFA’s members to network and create connections with one of the largest grocery retailers in the United States.

Building Connection between PBFA Members and Kroger

Eight Plant Based Foods Association member companies traveled to Kroger’s General Office in Cincinnati, Ohio. Representatives from Southern Roots Vegan Bakery, Future Foods Enterprises (PAOW!), OMNI, Sister River Foods (Parma!), PKN, Bon Dévil, Never Better Foods, and Curry Fresh filled their tables with the newest and best-loved items for a host of 250-300 Kroger associates. Even a half hour before our set start time, associates began to line up outside the event space for their opportunity to try unique plant-based bites and learn about the company and the deep relationships these brands have with their mission. When the event began, the line wound around the Kroger building’s third floor, with some folks waiting nearly an hour to get in!

The first hundred Kroger employees not only got the chance to sample and talk to the companies who were present, they also left with a goodie bag filled with an assortment of literature, coupons, swag, and samples from the PBFA community at large. These highly valuable bags were made possible by the contributions from Future Farms, Unlimeat, Myrtle Greens, Better Balance, Impossible Foods, The Forager Project, Follow Your Heart, So Delicious, Silk, Field Roast, Lightlife, Daiya, PAOW, and Hodo Foods. The combination of these bags and our in-person sampling resulted in Kroger associates leaving the event with a better understanding of the scope and versatility of plant-based – and a clear taste of just how great the food is.

Partnership to Strengthen Plant-Based

If the actual event wasn’t amazing enough, as a part of VegFest, PBFA held a celebratory dinner at Melt Revival, a Cincinnati mainstay known for its innovative and delectable plant-based options. This event brought together PBFA members and staff with key partners within Kroger and 84.51, a leading retail data science, insights, and media company based in Cincinnati. The dinner allowed us to share ideas, insights, and learnings from VegFest and beyond, and strengthened PBFA’s partnership with the retailer and the data firm. Together, they play a central role in understanding consumer preferences and including millions of customers. With associates from innovation, category management, Kroger Health, and data insights, there was much to discuss around the dinner table. 

With this year’s VegFest in the books, we look forward to planning next year’s event and expanding our partnership with Kroger to continue educating their associates and consumers and elevate the plant-based industry and our PBFA members. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the event or opportunities you’d like to see us engage with. Reach out with your questions, comments, and ideas to Nikki Smith, nikki@plantbasedfoods.org.