Where to place plant-based foods in grocery stores

Plant Based Foods of Canada finds differences in where meat and non-meat eaters want to find products.


With plant-based meat substitutes continuing to enter the mainstream, the question remains as to where they should be located in stores. Brands in the category are challenged with finding ways to avoid alienating their core consumer base of vegan/vegetarians a small percentage of the population for whom these products comprise the bulk of their diet — while still being able to reach predominantly meat-eaters and flexitarians. 

Beyond Meat has been battling stateside to get closer to the refrigerated meat section rather than the vegan section, and there’s been significant pushback from the meat industry.

Producer advocacy group Plant-Based Foods of Canada (PBFC), along with data firm, Field Agent, recently revealed their Plant-Based Foods Retail Location study, where the companies asked 750 respondents (including 150 vegan / vegetarians, 300 flexitarians and 300 animal protein eaters) where they would like to see plant-based protein alternatives located in a grocery store.

The goal for the research is partly to help PBFC’s members (which include the likes of Danone, Greenleaf, Daiya, and Beyond Meat) provide Canadian consumers with plant-based food products that keep pace with contemporary trends and advances in the industry.

According to Leslie Ewing, executive director at Plant-Based Foods of Canada, a key factor in the continued growth of the category is ensuring consumers can find plant-based products when they do their shopping, and that feedback shows there is a confusion surrounding where products should go, and how best to merchandise them.

Among the finding’s key insights, in most categories (milk, ice cream, and cheese alternatives) Canadian shoppers would like to see plant-based foods merchandised next to mainstream dairy-based products.

However, when it comes to frozen meat-free options (patties, meat-free frozen meals, fresh meat-free sausages, and tofu) vegans and vegetarians want these items to be placed in the produce section over other locations, like the natural and organic section or mainstream product aisles.

Based on the study’s results, Ewing says, PBFC recommends a two-prong strategy: 1) maintain the current location to address the interests of vegans who represent a small portion of the population but currently a high percentage of the volume, and 2) also place products next to their mainstream counterparts to address the interests of flexitarians who are looking for choices to expand their diets by incorporating more plant-based options.

“From a marketers’ perspective, there are two audiences – there are those who are currently heavy users, who basically built the category, and where they are currently shopping the product, and others who are saying they want to see these products next to the mainstream,” Ewing says.

If space allows, retailers should develop a “Plant-Based Foods Zone” in produce with clear signage to allow shoppers to easily identify plant-based options on-shelf, states the report.