The sets feature brands including Beyond Meat, Lightlife, Upton’s Naturals, Tofurky, and new plant-based products under Kroger’s Simple Truth private label.
Over the next four months, the PBFA will interview Kroger shoppers and test different shopper marketing communications, while Kroger’s data analytics subsidiary 84.51° will crunch the sales data to help Kroger and the wider industry learn how best to merchandise the next generation of plant-based meat products, said Julie Emmett, PBFA senior director of retail partnerships.
“Our goal is to provide retailers with actionable data to inform merchandising decisions and optimize plant-based food sales.”
In order to alert shoppers to the new segment, Kroger sent out emails to consumers ahead of the launch, and is now seeking to determine what works and what doesn't when people engage with the set, Emmett told FoodNavigator-USA.
"Kroger has identified a series of shoppers from the most highly engaged [in the plant-based meat category] to the least engaged and we'll be conducting a series of 45-minute in-person interviews with them to guage their reaction to the set, not just the assortment, but the signage, the verbiage and so on.
"I can't share the questions we'll be asking at this stage, and we'll be publishing the findings later in the year, but Kroger is trying to see what resonates and also whether merchandising these products in the meat case alienates vegan and vegetarian shoppers, or confuses people, as well as whether it brings in new shoppers to the [plant-based] category [and delivers incremental growth]."
Fresh or frozen?
Asked about where best to merchandise plant-based dairy and meat alternatives at the Good Food Conference in September, Kroger VP of Our Brands Gil Phipps noted that natural and organic product sales really took off when they became integrated into mainstream sets, with Kroger data showing that more than a third of its customers view themselves as flexitarian and “have a specifically intentional meatless day at least once a week.”
He added: “Our female customers, 53% of them are looking to reduce meat, 44% of males. We’re still selling a lot of meat, but there is a lot of interest here.”
Asked whether the future of plant-based meats is in the refrigerator – with SPINS data showing growth of 37% YoY for fresh products (albeit off a small base) vs 2% growth for frozen plant-based meat (which is much more mature) – he said: “Not necessarily but I do think that that is where the excitement is.”
To boldly go... into the meat case?
While Beyond Meat was the first plant-based brand to seek placement in the fresh meat case alongside regular meat with its ready-to-cook Beyond Burger, all of the major players in plant-based foods and several meat companies are now piling into this fresh, ready-to-cook segment, including Nestlé, Lightlife, Kellogg/Morningstar, Conagra Brands, Perdue, Tyson, Hormel, and Impossible Foods.
The Plant Based Foods Association – which proposed voluntary standards for plant-based milk labeling last year - has just released a similar set of standards for plant-based meats.
PBFA’s meat alternative standards allow the use of familiar terms such as meat, chicken, hamburger, nuggets, burger, provided they also feature qualifiers such as 'vegetarian,' 'plant-based,' 'vegan,' 'meatless,' 'meat-free,” “vegetarian,' 'veggie,' or 'made from plants.'