Virtual Natural Products Expo West

Consumers weigh vegan & specialty diet attributes differently based on category, SPINS data shows

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/CharlieAJA
Source: Getty/CharlieAJA

Related tags Expo west vegan plant-based keto Paleo Snacks

With nearly one in five Americans now following some type of specialty diet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the extent to which products appeal to different food tribes can heavily influence sales – but not all diets are equally important across all categories, according to SPINS data.

Rather, the success of different diet attributes – and therefore the importance of dedicating valuable real estate on labels for related claims – varies based on the maturity of the dietary trend, the extent to which a category innately ‘fits’ into a diet, the selection of products within a segment that meet specific food tribe requirements, innovation and product launches and other industry trends.

For example, rising interest in a plant-based diet means more consumers are looking for vegan and vegetarian options, but the extent to which these attributes resonate with consumers varies significantly between plant-based protein, plant-based dairy and other common categories, Scott Dicker, marketing data analyst with SPINS, told attendees at Natural Products Expo West virtual last week.

Within plant-based dairy, products with vegetarian-only attributes, which is determined based on nutritional information not marketing claims, grew 35% last year – outpacing the 18% growth of plant-based milk, cheese, creamer and yogurt segment overall. But products with vegan attributes grew only 17% -- so slightly less than the overall category, Dicker said.

The opposite was true for plant-based proteins, where vegan attributes drove 28% growth in the past year, outpacing the overall category’s 27% growth, compared to only 7% growth of products with vegetarian only attributes.

Dicker attributed the difference between the claims’ performance in the plant-based protein segment to many companies innovating or reformulating products to become fully vegan.

Products with vegan attributes also out-performed overall category growth in frozen at 15% versus 13% and in pantry staples at 12% versus 10% in the past year, according to SPINS. Likewise, it held its own in beverage – driving 10% growth – even though the overall beverage category grew 11%.

The only category where plant-based noticeably faltered is in snacks and sweets, where it drove only 2% growth compared to the category’s 5% increase over the last year.

When it comes to overt marketing, vegan labels were most important in the plant-based protein and plant-based dairy segments, according to Dicker. He noted that vegan label claims drove a 26% year-over-year increase worth $838m in plant-based meat sales last year. In the plant-based dairy segment, labeled vegan products grew 15% year-over-year, accounting for $1.6bn in sales.

He also explained that the label ‘vegan,’ is gaining traction as consumer confusion increase around whether ‘plant-based’ means vegan, vegetarian, or plant-forward with some animal products.

Influence of Whole30, Paleo and Keto

Other influential diet attributes driving sales across categories are Whole30, Keto, Paleo and FODMAP, which – like vegetarian and vegan – saw varying degrees of success depending on the segment.

Products with attributes catering toward the low-FODMAP diet drove the most growth in beverages at 11% (the same as the overall category), and snacks and sweets at 4% (just under the category’s 5% increase). The diet also held its own with 11% growth in meat, which saw a 14% increase overall last year, and pantry staples where it grew 12% compared to the category’s 10%, according to SPINS.

Even as low-FODMAP outpaced pantry staples, Whole30 and Paleo were the big winners in this category growing at 19% each, according to SPINS. But this is nothing compared to the diets’ influence in other categories, such as plant-based meat where they outpaced the category’s 27% growth at 72% and 106%, respectively. Likewise, these attributes performed well in plant-based dairy with Whole30 marking 20% growth and Paleo 36%.

Despite their success in these categories, these attributes fell notably short in other areas. For example, sales of products with Whole30 attributes dropped 17% in the past year in dairy, compared to the category’s 8% increase. Whole30 also under performed in beverage with a 7% year-over-year increase compared to the category’s 11% sales growth.

Paleo also came in with a 7% increase in beverage, and underperformed in sweets and snacks with 1% growth compared to the category’s 5%, according to SPINS.

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