Whole Foods Market and King Soopers lead in plant-based product assortment and marketing, reports GFI

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: Whole Foods Market
Photo: Whole Foods Market

Related tags plant-based cheese plant-based meat Good Food Institute Whole foods market Wegmans King Soopers Kroger

As the plant-based food sector continues to grow (up 11% in dollar sales in 2019 to $5bn), the category has become an integral part of many grocery retailers’ store assortments, marketing, and promotional strategies, according to The Good Food Institute Retail Report.

The report​ focuses on the top 15 US food retailers (with at least 100 store locations) according to 2018 fiscal revenue. To provide comparisons among banners in consistent competitive sets, it did not include findings for club warehouse (e.g., Costco Wholesale, Sam’s Club, BJ’s Wholesale Club) and small format (e.g., Trader Joe’s, Aldi) stores.

Ratings were based on a five-star scale across three areas: product assortment (based on 11 plant-based subcategories of direct replacements to animal products), merchandising, and marketing. Each retailer also received an overall aggregate score.

Dairy-free milk alternatives and frozen desserts are the most robust plant-based categories across stores

More than 80% of retailers offered at least 10 different refrigerated plant-based meat SKUs. Among the most developed plant-based food categories in terms of assortment and display, GFI noted that as a whole, retailers excelled at providing plant-based milk products with leading assortment boasting 70 to 90 SKUs.

In addition, approximately 50% of retailers carried a plant-based egg product.

According to the report leading retailers such as Whole Foods Market and King Soopers, which received five stars in plant-based product assortment, had 360 and 410 SKUs, respectively, of plant-based meat, egg, and dairy options.


Whole Foods Market wins best overall product assortment

According to GFI, Whole Foods Market carries hundreds of plant-based meat, egg, and dairy products, along with its extensive 365 Everyday Value private-label line of plant-based options.

 “Whole Foods also demonstrates their investment in product innovation while creating customer loyalty. Finally, Whole Foods offers an impressive array of options in the prepared foods and foodservice sections, improving customer access to convenient plant-based foods and meals,”​ said GFI.

Whole Foods also won best-in-store plant-based foodservice offerings for its prepared foods, grab-and-go, salad bar, hot bar, and other to-go foodservice sections, which has led to increased consumer trial.

“For 40 years, Whole Foods Market has been the destination for vegetarians and vegans to shop. We take pride in providing our customers with an abundant and innovative offering of plant-based products, including novel proteins, made with wholesome ingredients,”​ Dan Epley, VP of grocery at Whole Foods Market, said in the report.

Wegmans received high marks on having the highest number of products on shelf with more than 500 plant-based meat, egg, and dairy products, including its private label brand.

King Soopers scored the best for its wide variety of plant-based private label items, which includes Kroger’s Simple Truth plant-based line as well as recently-launched Emerge refrigerated meat line.

“As more of our customers explore and embrace a flexitarian lifestyle, Simple Truth Emerge is a fresh innovation that provides a flavorful meat alternative that cooks comparably ​[to meat],” said Gil Phipps, vice president of brands, Kroger.

Best merchandising plant-based foods goes to Giant Food

Best overall merchandising of plant-based foods products went to Giant Food.

“Giant Food’s plant-based strategy stands out for its integrated or integrated-segregated merchandising of product sets with corresponding animal-based sets, as well as prominent aisle signage and shelf tags that use inclusive ‘plant-based’ language,”​ noted GFI.

Giant Food tied with King Soopers for ‘Best Signage’ for its successful aisle level signage promoting plant-based selections and inclusive language such as “plant-powered​” instead of restrictive terms such as “vegan”​ and “vegetarian”​.

Kroger, meanwhile, is adding multiple products to its store-brand collection (which currently includes 38 items), including plant-based mayo (in stores in April); plant-based refrigered salad dressings and dips (launching in June), and plant-based cheese slices and shreds (launching in August). 

Target, in turn, is looking to more than double its store-brand plant-based assortment in 2020 in response to increasing demand.

Marketing of plant-based foods

The report showed a seven-way between Whole Foods, ShopRite, Stop & Shop, King Soopers, Ralphs, Kroger, and Target, for best marketing of plant-based food sets with each retailer scoring five stars.

Marketing ratings are based on cross-category plant-based thematic promotions in marketing and promotional materials, placement of plant-based options alongside conventional animal products in marketing and promotions, “plant-based​” or “plant-protein​” terminology in marketing and promotions instead of “vegan​” or “vegetarian​” to appeal to a wider audience, and a wellness or nutrition program that promotes the health benefits of plant-based foods.

“Focusing on plant-based foods is one of the many ways Whole Foods Market listens to and connects with its customers through social media. Highlighting plant-based recipes, ingredients, and nutrition content showcases plant-based products and ensures that new and innovative products are easily discoverable by our customers,”​ said Heidi Noble Stewart, executive leader consumer PR and social & influencer marketing at Whole Foods.

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