A key element of the strategy has been the construction of dedicated plant-based meat segments within the fresh meat case at the retailer, which operates 184 stores in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.
“We are looking to add more real estate to plant-based meat in our frozen meat sets for the fall, but the powerful growth has been in fresh plant-based meat," Norm Daigle, director of meat and seafood category management, pricing and merchandising, told FoodNavigator-USA.
“Our plant-based business is up significantly year over year in fresh meat, well into triple-digit growth, and the space has been very productive.
"But conventional meat is still growing - chicken more than pork and beef - so the macro data would not suggest that plant-based has stolen or cannibalized business from the rest of the meat case; we’re also seeing conventional meat in the baskets of consumers buying plant-based meats.”
‘Price does not seem to be in the hierarchy of filtering for a lot of consumers in this category’
While fresh plant-based meat items are typically priced at a significant premium to their conventional counterparts, this does not seem to have deterred shoppers, he said. “Price does not seem to be in the hierarchy of filtering for a lot of consumers in this category. You can purchase a conventional dinner sausage for $2.49/lb or you can purchase plant-based suages for $5.99 or $6.99 and a number of consumers will buy both.”
He added: “We started trialing Beyond Meat products in the fresh meat case over a year ago and for a while we had around half a dozen plant-based items in there, and then we took a pretty bold leap forward and decided to create a destination for close to 30 SKUs in two-to-four-feet wide sections across our stores. Normally we’d pilot something in a small number of stores, but we went big bang as we were so confident that we were onto something.
“Now we’ve got brands in there including Beyond Meat, Smithfield (Pure Farmland), Nestlé [Sweet Earth], and Lightlife. We’ve relatively recently brought in private label items to the assortment – so our Nature’s Promise patty is the only organic item in the plant-based fresh meat case - and we've just brought in Impossible Foods.
“We accompanied this with marketing and promotional activities, plant-based recipes and culinary ideas in our Fresh magazine and suppliers also started to promote in the magazine and in weekly fliers. We also had some of them participate with our online loyalty app.”
‘Extremely high redemption rates’
Bill Puza, category manager, beef, lamb and veal, added: “When we’ve had promotions on plant-based products on the Hannaford Rewards app we got extremely high redemption rates for the coupons; the returns for the investments made by the suppliers were some of the best we’ve recorded in the company.”
Instore navigation, signage
More work is also in progress to help shoppers find plant-based items in any given category via consistent signage, said Daigle.
“We’ve got a large body of work underway to develop common marketing elements for plant-based across the store and that will yield plant-based signage, strips for shelf moldings, blade signs and possibly bibs to the unit price tags that will have a similar look and feel, and that should be in place for us this fall.”
Growth opportunities in plant-based meat
So where are the growth opportunities in plant-based, and what kinds of products is Hannaford looking for?
“Real estate in the fresh meat case must be very very productive,” said Puza, who said Nestlé’s Sweet Earth Mindful Chik’n product had been particularly successful.
“We want to make sure that the items we offer are not just duplicates of one another, so we’re looking for more unique flavor profiles, different formats, added ingredients, different preparation methods. Space is very valuable so we don’t want to bring something in that’s great for a week or two and settles to nothingness, although we try to be respectful of the investment these suppliers have put in.”
In plant-based dairy, meanwhile, Hannaford now has north of 100 plant-based items, including a small but growing number of private label products including Nature’s Promise aged cashew cheese, almondmilk, almondmilk yogurt alternatives and frozen desserts made from oatmilk, cashewmilk and coconutmilk, said Paul Provo, assistant category manager, dairy.
“I’ve got around 10-12 items in my plant-based cheese assortment, and we’re seeing double digit growth, so we’re on a little bit of a journey to understand the segment a bit better right now. It’s not as developed as plant-based milk, but a lot of plant-based cheese producers are reformulating and redeveloping and expanding into different segments, and we’re seeing more consumer trial. We’ve just brought in Miyoko’s oatmilk butter this past April as well.”
He added: “We’re committed to making plant-based dairy items easier to find for consumers through merchandising and signage but we’re also working with some of our partners at IRI to get a better understanding of our stores and how well they index in certain segments of plant-based dairy.”
Seafood is a tougher nut to crack for plant-based products, said Daigle. “In the Northeast, for an organization that offers fresh Gulf of Maine seafood delivered to stores every day it’s tough, but we’re open to it.”
PBFA: Virtual meetings
As for the collaboration with the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA), he said, in addition to educational sessions conducted by the PBFA at Hannaford’s HQ office in Portland Maine, the PBFA has also introduced several of its members to Hannaford for virtual meetings in recent weeks.
“They have facilitated connections for us with suppliers and we’ve had lunch n’ learns for category teams where [PBFA senior director, retail partnerships] Julie [Emmett] has come in and presented to us in partnership with IRI, so it’s not a one and done, it’s a connection that remains and has been I think mutually beneficial.”
Interested in how/whether the plant-based meat/dairy trend relates to kids?
Tune into our FREE 'kids and the plant-based trend' webinar on October 28, the second session in our FOOD FOR KIDS virtual series in the fall, featuring speakers from Tofurky, Ripple Foods, Crafty Counter, Rebellyous Foods and the Good Food Institute (learn more about all the speakers here).
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