Segregation or integration – Ranging plant-based products to drive sales

Date : 30 March 2021

Hannah Skeggs

Nutrition & Scientific Affairs Manager

This 5-minute read explores the impact of product placement on plant-based sales. We’ll look at consumer behaviour when retailers place meat alternatives in the meat aisle, whether segregation concepts like Veggie Pret work, and the impact of providing a vegan restaurant menu.

A recipe for growth

Plant–based diets are growing, with innovative solutions popping up to meet demand.

55% of UK consumers claim they’re actively reducing or considering reducing their meat intake. Many are motivated by the perception that these diets are healthier (46%), more ethical (45%) or better for the environment (38%)1.

This is not a passing fad. Tesco has recently announced its intention to increase sales of plant-based meat alternatives by 300% by 2025 and since January, Asda has featured dedicated bays for plant-based ambient products in store. My local even has a large Vegan butcher.

One challenge that comes with wide appeal is the struggle to define a target audience. Our Appetite for Change research2 shows people of all ages and demographics are interested in plant-based alternatives, but have different motivators and barriers to purchasing these products. This can make product placement challenging.

Our research uncovered that vegetarian shoppers often find it uncomfortable to shop the meat aisle for plant-based meat alternatives, and in contrast flexitarians are frequently deterred by vegetarian or vegan bays- not associating themselves with these labels and linking these products with poor taste.

So, where might plant-based products fair best in store, on the go and when eating out?

In Store

Within our Appetite for Change research, we used reaction time testing to check the likely effectiveness of interventions. This technique asks people if they would consider an intervention and the speed at which they answer indicates whether they would act in real life.

In our research, 88% of people agreed that ranging meat-free in the meat aisle would help them choose healthier and more sustainable foods. 57% of respondents gave a fast yes, suggesting this would be a genuinely effective approach (Sample of 1000 UK consumers, Nov 2019)2.

Spotlight on Tesco

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Tesco ran a trial to investigate the sales impact of moving meat alternatives into the meat aisle.

Placement is a known lever to drive behaviour change and so the trial was promising. Click here to learn more about behaviour levers.

Ten meat alternative products were moved from a chilled, plant-based aisle into the meat, fish and poultry aisle in large stores. The initial results included 21 weeks of data to 23rd February 2020 and compared sales results of the trial stores with 10 matched control stores.

Some customers struggled to find their usual products, which was an initial barrier, but informing store colleagues of changes and having shelf call outs helped to resolve the issue. If you are considering trialling this in your business, the use of signage like floor stickers and shelf barkers may help to inform customers of the change.

The trial was a success, with sales being positively impacted during the trial. It will be interesting to see if it prompts longer term shifts to plant-based meat alternatives.

Spotlight on Kroger

There are also lessons from across the pond. Pre-Covid, the Plant-Based Foods Association (a trade association that represents 170 plant-based food companies in the USA) conducted a study with Kroger3 - one of the largest grocery retailers in the US.

Plant-based meat products were placed in the meat aisle of 60 grocery stores in Colorado, Indiana, and Illinois. This 12-week intervention ran from December 2019 through to February 2020.

In Denver, the study found plant-based meat sales were up by 13 percent. In Indiana and Illinois, plant-based meat sales surged 32 percent and a survey found there was a growing number of people following flexitarian diets in this region – suggesting ranging vegan products in the meat aisle appeals more to flexitarians than vegans specifically.

An analysis of all 60 stores shower that on average the sale of vegan meat alternatives increased by 23 percent when sold in the meat aisle. This reinforces how important product placement is in shifting consumers towards healthier and more sustainable diets.

Why does this work?

When changing diets, research shows that people consider easy solutions the most. They don’t want to hunt down a new product, but may pick it up if it interrupts their usual shopping trip. Many shoppers who buy plant-based proteins have also been shown to consume meat, therefore thinking of the ‘meat aisle’ as the protein aisle may be a way to bring plant-based meat alternatives into the mainstream. Doing this could encourage first trial for those who already eat meat and reduces the sense of loss and risk when picking up a meat alternative for the first time.

However it’s important to highlight our Appetite for Change research shows that cost is the biggest barrier to healthy, sustainable diets so care must be taken to list plant-based products at the right price point2.

Out of Home

The concept of integrating rather than segregating also applies out of home (with a few exceptions). In Menu for change4, the Behaviour Insights team highlighted this as an opportunity that could have a positive impact but was highly feasible.

Don’t put vegetarian options in separate aisles or in boxes on menus, but integrate them with the meat options. This means cafes and retailers should integrate meat and non-meat products by product category, putting veggie burgers with the burgers, and soy/oat milk with the cows’ milk, etc. Restaurants should discard the separate ‘vegetarian’ sections of menus. – Menu for Change

Why does this work?

Studies have shown that placing vegetarian items in a separate box on menus can reduce ordering rates by 56%5 and that having “veggie only” refrigerators in Pret reduced sales compared to integrating products6.

Separating these items makes them feel different. It reinforces that they are ‘designed for vegans and vegetarians’ – a label many don’t associate with. Additionally, when we enter a café or restaurant, we have to make a choice what to eat, often from a large variety of options. Our brain naturally seeks shortcuts and can easily exclude a whole section of products as irrelevant.

Mixing in plant-based options and giving them prime positioning allows the meal to shine rather than a vegan categorisation and would encourage more browsing for those who do not typically eat this type of food. Gregg’s vegan range is a great example of how this can be executed with excitement!

The exception to this is where plant-based becomes an exclusive offering and the key pull. Whilst having segregated veggie fridges in Pret may not have worked, Veggie Pret stores seem to buck the trend. The first Veggie Pret opened as a pop-up experiment back in 2016 and there are now 10 Veggie Pret stores – and an ambition to convert as many as 90 EAT sites into Veggie Prets7. It seems that a store dedicated to segregation can help to create excitement and relevance – especially in London and Manchester, where plant-based diets are popular. Does this fit the trend bucket more than normalising plant-based diets? – it’s hard to know...

Top Tips

  • Placement can nudge meat-eaters to try plant-based products and increase sales
  • Many are turned off by vegan and vegetarian labels, associating them with poor taste and lack of personal relevance
  • There is an opportunity to raise curiosity through new products, trials and placement in store, as well as on restaurant menus
  • Cost perception is the biggest barrier, so try not to price these products out of reach
  • Focus on gains, rather than losses. Instead of highlighting the loss of meat, focus on great taste, eating more vegetables and what this means for personal health

References

1 IGD ShopperVista, 2019. Plant based diets: entering the mainstream? Part one. Available to subscribers: https://shoppervista.igd.com/trends/presentation-viewer/t/plant-based-diets-entering-the-mainstream-part-one/i/8859
2 IGD, 2020. Appetite for Change. Available from: https://www.igd.com/social-impact/sustainability/healthy-and-sustainable-diets/appetite-for-change-full-research
3 PBFA, 2020. PBFA and Kroger Plant-Based Meat Study. Available from: https://www.plantbasedfoods.org/marketplace/pbfa-and-kroger-plant-based-meat-study/
4 BIT, 2019. A menu for change. Available from: https://www.bi.team/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/BIT_Report_A-Menu-for-Change_Webversion_2020.pdf.pdf
5 Bacon, L. (2017). Don’t Put Vegetables in the Corner. World Resources Institute
6 Schlee, C. (2017). https://www.pret.co.uk/en-gb/prets-next-experiment/ (no longer accessible)
7 https://www.thegrocer.co.uk/high-street/pret-a-manger-to-reopen-all-its-veggie-pret-stores-this-week/645149.article