You may not know about the faux meat versus fresh-meat fracas. It is the protein prizefight of all time. This clash is not for the fainthearted. This battle pits alternative meat producers against cattle raisers. The basis of the battle is this: where in the grocery store should alternative meats be placed for sale? Should alternative-based meats be sold in the fresh meat case or should these products be relegated to special vegan sections in the store’s produce perimeter or in frozen food aisles? What is the proper place where alternative meat products should live?
Brands can live or die based on location. Place is the face of your brand wherever that may be: a fast-food restaurant, a food-truck, a hotel, a cruise ship, a chat room, or your front and back yards. Place can also be where your brand sits in a retail environment, whether in-store or online. Place helps a brand be top-of-mind for a customer making choice simpler. For example, Amazon makes sure that its brands show up in first place when a shopper is seeking a specific product type. This is more than just packaging. “Where” the brand lives is very relevant for brand perceptions.
Nothing happens until it happens at retail, wherever or whatever that retail occurs. Retail is the moment of truth. It is the most powerful, most intimate, most credible brand message.
Retail grocery space is coveted. Place communicates. Where your product lands will have a lot to do with how it is perceived and with how well it sells. Placing Kombucha and vegetable drinks next to lettuce and cucumbers allows these beverages to differentiate from those shelf-stable beverages sold in center store juice aisles. Product placement affects brand imagery.
Alternative meat products, such as Beyond Meat and Field Roast, tend to be in different places depending on the grocery store. Many grocers scatter alternative meat products around their stores. Some products are sold in vegan sections alongside tofu and non-dairy cheese-style slices; some are in the freezer case either placed by meal type, such as breakfast or by food type, such as patties; and some, like Beyond Meat, with its large assortment of products, have their own dedicated freezer case space. Merchandising alternative meat products all around the store does not allow the customer to see the full array of alternative meat products at once. Nor does this approach allow customers to make price comparisons. (Impossible Foods focused on restaurant sales for its alternative meat burgers. With restaurants closed, Impossible Foods is now making a play for grocery space.)
Up until now, there have not been data to indicate just where alternative meats should be placed and sold. Interestingly, other alternative products are already paced with their animal-derived siblings.
Alternative milk products such as Oatley and Silk are sold next to Borden’s, Horizon and Organic Valley dairy milk and cream. Alternative frozen desserts such as SO Delicious and Cado are sold next to Ben & Jerry’s Ice Creams. Plant-based cream cheese style spreads such as Kite Hill and Myoko’s are sold next to Philadelphia brand. Plant-based butter alternatives are sold next to dairy butters. Nut-based and cocoanut-based yogurts are sitting next to the Danone and Chobani brands.
Progressive Grocer, a highly regarded trade publication, noted that customers now perceive alternative meat as “just another source of protein.” Citing data from the 2019 Power of Meat study conducted by FMI and the Foundation for Meat and Poultry Education and Research, 37% of respondents believe that alternative meats should be in the fresh meat case relative to 26% who thought alternative meats should be placed in the produce department. Thirty-seven percent (37%) say they currently shop for alternative meats in the frozen aisle.
The U.S. Cattleman’s Association (USCA) is not happy. One could surmise that the USCA is frustrated that alternative meats may be placed next to its fresh animal-meats. The USCA believes that placing faux meats next to animal-based products causes customer confusion and erodes customer “trust” in the fresh meat case. A spokesperson for USCA stated that alternative meat products were “riding on the coattails of the beef industry, which has spent decades building up a healthy brand trust.”
Powerful new research will affect where grocers will locate alternative meats in their stores. Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the US, in tandem with Plant-Based Foods Association (PBFA), just released the results of a 12-week study conducted between December 2019 and February 2020. The research took place in 60 Kroger stores across three states: Colorado, Indiana, and Illinois. Kroger tested placing alternative meats in a 3-foot space in the fresh meat department to determine “how” alternative meats would sell when placed next to fresh meats.
The study revealed that across the three Midwest states during the 12-week test, sales of alternative meats placed in the fresh meat case were up 32%. Kroger’s merchandising director was very clear: the test offered proof that alternative meats were no longer niche, but clearly mainstream. The PBFA spokesperson stated that the study shows retailers the critical importance of selling alternative meats “… where customers expect to find plant-based meats: in the meat department.”
Nearly all of the Kroger customers told interviewers they simply expected alternative meats to be next to animal-based meats. Their expectations were based on the fact that this made the products easier to find and purchase. And, the placement highlighted the “many options” of plant-based meats now available. As Fast Company summarized the Kroger’s study: “… if you want to increase sales (of alternative meats) place them in the animal meats section.”
Gelsen’s stores, a southern California chain, initially placed Beyond Meat products in the freezer aisle. Sales were not brisk. Having moved Beyond Meat from freezer to meat case, the brand’s sales soared.
Many grocery chains have struggled to find the best place for alternative meat products. These new data from Kroger should make the placement decisions easy. As the group VP for Albertsons Companies, Inc. (Albertsons, Safeway, and other grocery brands), told The Washington Post, “We’re at a point where plant-based meats have become a segment of their own and …we’ll have a section solely dedicated to these products inside the meat department.”
Place is where customers begin their interaction with the brand. If the place makes browsing and purchasing difficult, the place will negatively impact brand perceptions and brand sales. Beyond Meat and other alternative meat products are becoming more mainstream. As with other alternative products such as milk, cheese, and spreads, Beyond Meat and other alternative meats need a grocery place enhances rather than debases the brands. The Kroger data demonstrate that shoppers prefer shopping for alternative meats when alternative meats are sold in the same place right next to animal-based products. Effective marketing is about satisfying customer wants. This is what customers want.
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