“We have not done a lot of engagement directly with consumers” since PBFA was founded in 2016, focusing instead on policy and merchandising to help create a more level playing field for stakeholders, the trade group’s CEO Rachel Dreskin told FoodNavigator-USA at Natural Products Expo East. But, she added, “the industry is at a point right now [where it] is facing considerable challenges now, as well, that we have been revisiting that position.”
She explained in recent years the plant-based industry has seen a “huge amount of diversification” so that the trade group now tracks 15 categories of plant-based products, including baked goods, protein powders, breakfast items and frozen meals alongside longer-term staples, such as non-dairy milk and plant-based meat.
That diversification has fueled sales of $8bn in the US retail, which is up from $7.4bn year-over-year, she said.
Along with the growth is “more criticism of plant-based foods and the benefits of plant-based foods,” making it “very important as we move into the next phase to be able to create a central narrative that really helps define what plant-based foods are,” how they speak to consumers’ emotions and where they fit in the diet, the culture and larger traditions, she explained.
“The point the plant-based foods industry is at right now is we have a lot of wind behind our sails, and we have a lot of interest from consumers, and … demand for the products has never been stronger. But, we know we need to come together and really unite around ohw are we going to position these products? How are we going to communicate to consumers and meet their expectations and demands and make sure that we have the right information and the right research that is underpinning all of that,” she said.
PBFA turns to consumers for insights about the future of plant-based
To find these answers, Dreskin said PBFA is “branching out from our traditional pillars, which include policy and marketplace, and are launching a comprehensive marketing initiative that will represent all of the brands, all of the categories that sit within the PBFA membership and within the industry as a whole.”
This begins with deep consumer segmentation research commissioned by PBFA that is underway. The research seeks to understand who is most interested in plant-based foods, what else they care about, what messaging resonates with them and then on which platforms are they most engaged.
Government engagement remains central to PBFA’s agenda
At the same time, PBFA continues to engage with the government about how to increase investment in the plant-based foods industry around infrastructure and the economic opportunities it offers farmers.
“There is an opportunity for farmers to diversify their crops, to find new and better markets, and we are engaged in this quite deeply through the Plant Based Foods Institute, our sister organization, where we are working with farmers to … identify brands that will source those ingredients that they are growing,” she explained.
PBFA also is working with legislators and the Environmental Working Group to introduce the PLANT Act as part of the proposed 2023 Farm Bill that would increase government support for the plant-based foods industry and farmers growing specialty crops, Dreskin explained.
She added engaging with both the government and consumers is essential to the long-term health of the industry.
For those interested in learning more about PBFA’s consumer campaign or in getting involved, find more information at https://www.plantbasedfoods.org/consumer-marketing-initiative/.