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Sorensen: Examining Attraction Of Some New Plant-Based Products

Cindy Sorensen Plastpac
Cindy Sorensen

by Cindy Sorensen / founder, The Grocery Group

I worked on behalf of dairy farmers for many years and helped to promote the consumption of products manufactured with milk from cows. As part of this work, I often consulted with retailers to share research as it related to consumer food purchases and consumption behaviors.

Transparency was a common theme that ran throughout every research study. In particular, consumers want to know about the people producing their food and that the animals were treated well during the production of it. In addition, they also want to know that the land was cared for in a sustainable way.

Also included in the “top five” reasons why consumers make the food purchases they do is taste, which takes precedence over price and many other considerations. Consumers want products to deliver on their transparency requirements, but the food must also taste good. 

Consumer purchase patterns have indicated they will pay a premium price for products that deliver on these requirements and that taste good – a win-win for retailers and consumers. 

The introduction of plant-based products has exploded in recent years, with new items appearing across the grocery store. A short list of these includes bacon, beverages, butter, cheese, chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream, mayonnaise, seafood, sour cream and yogurt.

What has driven the success of plant-based products? In my opinion, they have delivered on providing solutions to two consumer concerns of high importance – animal care and environmental sustainability. 

Despite the work of the dairy industry in sharing stories from the farm, consumers remain skeptical that cows are treated with the highest level of care. They have seen the work of animal activists, who have obtained and used videos of alleged abuse on farms to promote their anti-animal agriculture agenda.

This type of abuse is rare, but the videos are impactful and successful in placing doubt into consumers’ minds. This concern skews highest among Gen Z and Millennials, the generations most in demand by food manufacturers. The animal abuse videos leave them confused about who to believe. By purchasing plant-based products, those concerns are a nonfactor.

For decades, the dairy industry has also shared the efforts of farmers to preserve the environment for future generations. Plant-based product manufacturers have had similar messaging about environmental sustainability practices.

Unfortunately, the marketers of plant-based products – of all types – have deeper pockets. This has allowed them to cast a wide advertising net about how the production of their products is – in their opinion – much more sustainable. 

This type of messaging has put those in animal agriculture in a reactive position. They lack the financial resources to effectively reach the consumers who are seeking information about their food purchases.

And then there is taste. Do these products taste good? I have sampled several of them. In many cases, it is difficult to identify the plant-based version from the animal-based one. When plant-based manufacturers successfully deliver on taste, consumers can remove their concerns about animal care and sustainability as factors in their purchasing decision. This has been the key to plant-based product success. Also, many health professionals are promoting the benefits of a plant-based diet.

All of these factors combine to create a perfect scenario for plant-based and a perfect storm for the viability of animal agriculture and animal-based products.

Sorensen’s Grocery Group has a mission to “develop leadership in purpose, people and products” with a specific emphasis on the grocery/consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry. The group also develops programs to connect grocery industry professionals to colleges and universities to help attract, recruit and retain a talented workforce in a competitive employment. Reach Sorensen at [email protected]

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