According to data from Brightfield Group’s Evergi, sales of plant-based frozen meals and bowls climbed 5% in the second quarter of this year, while sales of other plant-based products plummeted, including a staggering 25% drop in plant-based creamers, a 17% drop in both fish and sausage alternatives, a 7% drop in plant-based meat and 6% decline in chicken alternatives. The only other segment that Evergi reported gains in during the period was plant-based bacon, which eked out a meager 1%.
Sam Dennigan, the CEO and founder of Strong Roots, explained at Natural Products Expo East that declining sales of mock-meats and rising interest in simple, whole-food, plant-based frozen entrees reflects a shift in consumer priorities to favor health, sustainability and convenience over novelty, which, he adds, often requires a higher level of education about key ingredients, processing and use that many brands have yet to satisfy.
“The most exciting trend that we’re seeing rising to the surface within the frozen category, but also in other parts of the store, is this return to pure, natural, whole foods – this clean proposition of alternative protein, as opposed to the very, very long list of extenuated ingredients that’s happened over the last three to five years,” he said.
Retailers also are focused on this part of the market and asking whether products are sustainable, and whether ingredient decks are short and easy for consumers to understand, he added.
This “fits us really well because our essential brand position is about simplicity: simple real food and convenience, but not doing it with things that are unknown to people from a raw materials perspective,” he said.
The freezer section is hot
Dennigan also noted that consumers are more interested in frozen food, sales of which he says have outgrown fresh by 230% this year. He attributed this growth to consumers investing in additional freezer space during the pandemic and trying new brands to keep their kitchens stocked early after the outbreak.
“As a result of that, there’s been huge innovation flooding into the frozen space. So, what was once a relatively low activity challenger brand space is now the hot ticket. So, everybody is trying to compete for very little shelf space,” he said.
Single-serve meals address trend towards ‘more isolated’ eating occasions
To ensure Strong Roots’ space in retailers’ and consumers’ freezers, the company is launching a new line of entrees to complement its existing offerings of vegetable-forward alternatives to meat products, which includes patties and bites, and its root-focused sides.
The company opted for single serve meals based on consumer research that found many consumers – particularly young men and older women – are “eating in a more isolated fashion” as they juggle increasingly busy schedules and different dietary preferences within their households, Dennigan said.
The line-up includes meals that Dennigan said taste good but are lower in unwanted ingredients, such as sugar, sodium, fats and different binders. For example, he says the company’s Thai Green Curry is comforting but doesn’t cause consumers to feel guilty. Likewise, he noted, the Greek Orzo Bake is packed with vegetables frozen at their peak and grilled to lock in moisture and flavor.
The company also is expanding its line of white potato items, which Dennigan says stand out from the competition because they use specific varieties of potatoes that are fluffy and buttery and crisp without too much added fat.
Expanded channel distribution supports convenience
Acknowledging the premium consumers place on convenience, Strong Roots is expanding its distribution into new channels so that it is even easier for shoppers to buy its products.
Earlier this month, Strong Roots launched its direct-to-consumer subscription meal service in the Northeast US with plans to expand as it is able, and it is dipping a toe into the foodservice market.
Sustainability gains traction with consumers
While currently not as important to consumers as taste or nutrition, Dennigan says shoppers are placing more weight on sustainability – especially around packaging – when making purchase decisions.
As a B Corp, Strong Roots is focused on reducing its planetary impact by removing 100 tons of plastic from its supply chain over the past year by moving from a recyclable soft plastic to a low density polyethylene number 4, which can be recycled more easily and broadly. It also is using more recycled raw material and some cases ditching plastic altogether in favor of a food safe cardboard.
If you are interested in learning more about how consumers think about sustainability when purchasing food, join FoodNavigator-USA Nov. 15-17 for our free Futureproofing the Food System digital summit, during which we will hear from industry leaders about how they are approaching packaging, sustainable sourcing and certification and food waste reduction. Learn more at foodnavigatorusasummit.com.