Plant-based brands are disrupting every category in-store
Plant-based brands have disrupted almost every category in our supermarkets – from fresh to ready prepared foods, beauty and liquor. Almost a quarter (23%) of all new UK food product launches in 2019 were labelled as vegan, compared to 17% in 2018. A Mintel survey (June 2020) revealed that 12% of all Brits say that a vegan diet is proving more attractive than ever since the start of the pandemic, rising to 22% of Londoners. An estimated eight million Brits are eating more plant-based food now than ever before.
A hugely noticeable evolution is taking place in Plant-based product merchandising.
We saw Tesco’s commitment in September 2020 to increase sales of meat-free products across 20 different categories by 300% by 2025, with a commitment to place plant-based products alongside their meat/dairy counterparts in the same cabinets.
Just 18 months ago, Vegan or Plant-based fresh groceries would be most likely placed in a discrete ‘Free From’ or Vegan cabinet or alongside the Linda McCartney range in the freezer cabinet. The mainstream thinking nowadays is that we brands and retailers have a social and eco responsibility to encourage more switches to plant-based options by making it very easy for consumers to choose plant-based effortlessly.
So, the key questions are:
- What’s important when merchandising Plant Based products alongside other products?
- How do you get a good read on how well the merchandising is working, and what underpins consumer decision-making?
Guidance on Merchandising Plant-based Foods
Recent research shared by the Plant Based Food Association rings true with my own experience of researching shopper responses to merchandising strategies in store:
· Be very clear on-pack that this is a plant-based product - make the Vegan logo or the Plant Based Foods Association logo immediately obvious – so that consumers know what it is and feel confident in the product’s plant-based credentials
· Be directional in your navigational signalling:
o Signal clearly where the plant-based products are displayed in the aisle and section e.g. overhead signage
o Reinforce the messaging on the shelf display cartons
o Ideally have a physical divide in the cabinet between the plant-
o based products and the meat/dairy products
- Remind people of the ‘bigger’ contextual reasons why they want to choose Plant-based.
What do we mean by contextual reasons?
As consumers, we tend to make decisions when shopping very quickly, as if on autopilot, but taking cues from lots of different signals at the same time – through packaging, imagery, colour-ways, navigational signage, shelf-ready packaging cartons and even how the price presented. All of these factors frame our impression of what is being offered and influence our choices. It is widely recognised that over half of all purchase decisions are largely influenced by the signals present at the time of purchase.
Phil Barden (Decoded) describes consumer brand choices at the point of sale as the fulfilment of explicit and implicit goals. Our actions at the point of purchase are often not very structured or well-considered. People don’t spend a lot of time thinking about those reasons or goals when at the fixture. These ideas already lie in the consumer’s mind before they get to the fixture, and the more you can attach your brand to those reasons, the more likely your brand will resonate with the shopper and be chosen at POS.
For example, if a consumer is planning to make home-made pizza for the family at the weekend, a conscious or explicit consumer goal might be to make pizza that tastes as great as if restaurant bought. An underlying implicit goal could be to ensure that whatever pizza they put on the table shows they care for the family’s health as well as the planet’s biodiversity.
A shopper that is contemplating which grated to cheese to buy instore, can be sub-consciously influenced by messaging on pack or at the fixture if it reminds them of their goal to care for their family’s health and/or the planet’s health. Therefore, reminding grated cheese shoppers at POS that your plant-based brand is a great choice for the planet’s biodiversity and/or is a healthy option is useful, because it helps to let the brand message into people’s automatic decision-making process.
To achieve differentiation and engage consumers in the plant based offering, the contextual message of the consumer benefits to choosing a plant-based brand should be reinforced as much as possible at the point of sale. It’s great to carry the plant-based/vegan accreditation logo – but where possible this should be married with contextual messages on pack, on the shelf-ready packaging, on any other POS material and through navigational signage.
How do we research the consumer response to the Plant-based Brand in-store?
The pandemic has transformed how we research behaviour and shopper choices at Point of Sale.
Interactive Mobile Qual Tools have quickly risen to the fore, allowing us to ‘walk the walk’ of the consumer, as they make their shopper journey and to understand first hand through video, image and text upload, what participants are experiencing and thinking as they make their purchase journey. The mobile digital apps from platform brands like Indeemo, Revelation and QualSights allow researcher to interact with shoppers to probe ‘in the moment’, as well as tag and capture video clips for content analysis and to share in the presentation. Platforms from brands such as Incling and Recollective enable consumers to share their shopper experience through the web browser.
The real beauty of these tools is that we capture rich, authentic insight into shopper decision-making remotely: aS behaviours are recorded in the moment so it’s more likely to capture system 1 (auto pilot behaviours), it’s in the real life shopping environment, and there’s no researcher effect.
We can then follow the mobile ethnographic feedback with an online in-depth interview or community discussion, where we can have a detailed and expansive discussion about that shopping experience at POS. By sharing their video recordings online during the interview/discussion, we can take people back to particular moments, and explore in-depth to gain much richer insights.
In the future, we may return to in-store qualitative shopper interviews particularly because we can collect insight from a large sample of consumers whom we know are genuine shoppers of the category that day. But capturing shopper feedback remotely will continue to add a huge richness of insight that will make this approach a firm part of the research mix.
About the author
Caroline Thompson is a Strategic Qualitative Research Consultant with expertise conducting qualitative research studies for consumer, service and regulated brands. She has a particular interest and expertise in the plant-based market, having conducted extensive research in this area, and having launched Vegan to Dinner to help people create ‘mixed table’ meal solutions.
At Caroline Thompson Associates our bespoke team of director level consultants drive new understanding of people and their thought processes by getting into their world through creative research solutions.
If you have questions or would like to discuss the challenges of shopper research further drop me a note at: firstname.lastname@example.org