Carol Fitzgerald, CEO and founder of innovation insights company BuzzBack LLC, discusses the opportunities plant-based snacks offer both manufacturers and retailers.
Cleveland — The market for plant-based products has been growing exponentially in the past two years. Research by the Plant Based Foods Association shows that in the U.S. the retail sales of plant-based foods grew by more than 11 percent in the past year, which is five times faster than total foods sales.
Savvy brands operating in various industries, not only food and beverage but also packaging and beauty, are looking at this trend as an opportunity to provide customers with new products. However, to tackle the fierce competition, brands that want to be impactful need to be aware of people’s preferences and needs.
BuzzBack recently asked 1,400 consumers in the U.S. and UK to talk about plant-based products: how much do they know, what are their favorite ingredients and ultimately why are they choosing plant-based instead of other food.
When it comes to snacks specifically, consumers are spoilt for choice. Supermarkets offer the widest selection, from healthier options to chips and chocolates. So why do plant-based products attract so much interest?
BuzzBack research found that 75 percent of U.S. consumers are interested in products made with plant-based ingredients. As one respondent said: “Plant-based proteins supply my body with the nutrition needed to fuel my daily activity. They contain all the things my body needs without the extra calories, cholesterol and other bad things. They also are much easier to digest and process.”
“I have reduced my meat intake and replaced it with plant-based proteins to support a healthier lifestyle” said another. “I have been reading studies about how meat, especially red, can play a big factor in things like obesity, heart disease, high cholesterol and blood pressure. I want to avoid those problems before they happen. ”
According to the research, health is the most influential driver, with 73 percent in the U.S. saying they tried plant-based food because they were looking for healthier options. 68 percent choose plant-based to try something new, while 39 percent are motivated to choose plant-based products because they are better for the environment.
Although meat and milk substitutes are the most popular plant-based products in the U.S., the demand for snacks is also on the rise. The research found that 54 percent of people would consider buying savory snacks, 48 percent would buy sweet ones, while more than 30 percent already look specifically for snacks that are plant-based.
On top of health and environmental appeal, taste also plays a key part. “My husband eats cookies as a keto-diet treat, coconut, nuts, almond flour, vanilla. It’s ok — kind of dense, soft. I prefer my snacks crunchy,” said one respondent. So, brands in the food industry that want to communicate their products successfully should focus on taste. Snacks must taste consistently great, with texture playing a clear role. There are other key factors brands should bear in mind.
Ingredients should be a central part of the communication; consumers are looking for health benefits as well as to try something new. BuzzBack consumer research shows that the trendiest healthy ingredients among U.S. consumers are Omega3, probiotics and essential oils, with more than 80 percent of people having heard of them, while there’s lower awareness of ingredients such as elderberry, activated charcoal and CBD. Messages around simple and healthy ingredients are effective. Of course, there’s also a strong interest in protein but this has been around for some time now.
A high percentage of people that purchase plant-based products are concerned about the environment. Environmental benefits apply not just to where the product comes from and how it is made or produced, but also to how that product is packaged. Ethical producers should give attention to the packaging as well as communicating the ethical benefits of the product in order to earn their brands brownie (or greenie?) points.
BuzzBack recommends brands should observe the simple rule of the 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Eco-friendliness, renewable materials and resource conservation are important for the majority of consumers looking for plant-based options. Cleanliness, safety and a good balance of value for money should also be taken into account.
The desire for plant-based products hasn’t stopped with Covid-19. The demand for healthy snacks, predominantly savory ones, is growing and there is a significant opportunity for innovative brands to introduce successful products to the market. But, together with this opportunity, the competition is also growing.
To stand out on supermarket shelves, it is fundamental to adopt and maintain a consumer-centric approach. By understanding people’s underlying needs and expectations, brands can build strong products and messages to communicate those important factors successfully. If you focus on healthy ingredients combined with incredible taste and ‘green’ packaging, you are on to a winner.