As plant-based food and beverages continue to disrupt the entire CPG landscape, Nestlé USA is keen to not only keep its seat at the table but grow its leadership position in the booming sector, which according to the Good Food Institute, recorded $7bn in sales for the 52 weeks ending April 6, 2021,
"We are taking a multi-prong approach to plant-based. We believe that plant-based will continue to grow both in beverages and food. And, therefore as a company, we’ve taken the opportunity to think about it in a portfolio way," Enciso told FoodNavigator-USA.
"On one side, we are including plant-based ingredients in all our beloved brands... like our pizza brands and our meal brands, such as Stouffer's and Lean and Life Cuisines. At the same time, we’ve also created new brands, [and] acquired new companies, as in the case with Sweet Earth (acquired in 2017)," which has experienced double-digit growth in it frozen meal offerings in the past year, said Enciso.
Seizing the opportunity posed by plant-based chicken
Among the areas within plant-based with the most potential is chicken alternatives -- a category in which Enciso says Nestle is doubling down this year.
Earlier this year, Nestlé launched its plant-based Mindful Chik’n Strips under the Sweet Earth Foods brand, which according to the company "continues to outperform expectations" across retail and QSR. It also is outpacing category growth due to its superior taste profile and consumer demand, said Nestlé.
Already popular pre-COVID-19, the US market leans heavily towards chicken over other animal proteins (US consumers eat close to 100lbs of chicken per year), making added investment in plant-based chicken alternatives a logical choice for Nestlé.
"Consumers are just delighted that we are able to bring them amazing quality in the plant-based chicken area. That is an area that will continue to grow and where we have a multi-prong strategy," said Enciso.
Creamers see strong growth
Nestle's plant-based creamer portfolio (including its Natural Bliss and Starbucks non-dairy creamer product lines) is also gaining steam with consumers who have become well acquainted with non-dairy milks and are looking for more alternatives in the dairy set.
"Creamers have been growing very strongly in the plant-based segment. Our oat-based [Natural Bliss] launch has also had very strong acceptance," noted Enciso.
At-home and away-from-home coffee revolution
The rise of plant-based creamers also goes hand in hand with Nestlé's ambitions to grow its portfolio of coffee brands, which encompasses Nescafé, Nespresso, Starbucks, Chameleon Coffee, and Blue Bottle, said Enciso.
"There is very important room for growth for us in coffee," she said.
While the at-home coffee occasion continues to be a critical area of focus for the company, RTD coffee and instant coffee are rebounding at an accelerated rate, according to Enciso, and the company is investing accordingly in both categories.
With growing spending power, Gen Z consumers are increasing their consumption of instant coffee, a category that's traditionally struggled to take off in the US market like it has globally, according to Enciso.
"Instant coffee enables them very strong versatility, and they are actually reconsidering this product form," she said.
Snacking and 'mini meals'
Another key area for Nestlé USA is in snacking, a segment in which the company is constantly innovating to meet evolving consumer demands from health and wellness to permissible indulgence.
"We’ve become much more fluid with eating occasions, and we are investing in all of our snacking portfolio," said Enciso, who added that the company is looking beyond traditional snacking categories and capitalizing on the growing trend of "mini meals" in which a product like Hot Pockets can serve as either a snack or 'power lunch' for consumers.
"That’s part of the versatility that’s enabling this accelerated growth. We are definitely doubling down on that," she said.