Wholly Veggie wants to shake up the frozen section

The brand aims to change how consumers see (and discover) frozen veggies, launching plant-based wings and a full-meal option.

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Frozen food was caught up in the wave of pantry stuffing when COVID began, and Wholly Veggie is looking to ride that wave with the launch of its first full-meal option, as well as new plant-based cauliflower and broccoli wings.

The new, larger and protein-rich Veggie-Full Meals are being launched in most major Canadian grocery stores, including Farm Boy and Metro. The plant-based wings are debuting in Sobey’s and its affiliates nationwide, announcing the moves with the help of Butter PR.

Wholly Veggie sees opportunity in a space frequently frowned upon for its lack of nutritional benefits and is looking to differentiate with convenient prepackaged meals that are also healthy, providing a “frictionless” way to add more veggies to a diet. The brand started with a smaller number of stores in the GTA in 2017 with 3 SKUs, and is now in over 3,000 stores across North America with 14 products.

Johnathan Bonnell, co-founder of Wholly Veggie, says the newest products align with the shift toward incorporating more plant-based food into people’s diets, and expanding into the entrée category was a natural extension for the company as it seeks to grow across each meal occasion.

That brand is also looking to raise awareness in store with wobblers, danglers and shelf pushers, as well as units to appear on top of – or to customize – freezers. Much like its packaging, the signage is focused on clearly communicating key terms and ingredients at a glance, the kinds of things people with dietary restrictions need to know. The brand has done everything design-wise in-house and with a few freelancers Bonnell connected with through his past roles at agencies like Critical Mass and Sid Lee.

However, Bonnell says more of the design focus has been put on Wholly Veggie’s packaging than its signage.

“I’m a personal believer in the concept of ‘packvertising,’ Bonnell says. “At the store, your packaging has to do the selling.”

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This is because, as Bonnell believes, a new era of COVID consumers means shopper elements will become less and less effective as there’s less grab-and-go.

“The act of discovery is kind of dead in grocery stores,” Bonnell claims. “People want to get in and out. For a brand like ours, we’ll need to spend more of our time focusing earlier in the marketing funnel to drive awareness, before the consumer goes to the store.”

Part of that funnel, of course, is ecommerce, which he says has rapidly accelerated efforts for both brands and grocers to either launch or improve their offerings. For now, Wholly Veggie is still traditional in terms of its distribution strategy, but Bonnell does have his eyes on the future.

“Moving forward, I don’t think we’ll see grocery stores in the same way anymore,” he says. “Once you’ve adopted curbside pick-up, you don’t really want to go back into the store. It’s just more convenient. The same goes for home delivery.”

While getting consumers to look into the frozen section for healthier options isn’t a challenge, sampling has been. As in-store sampling get cancelled across the board, Bonnell says it pivoted towards alternate methods to drive awareness and trial, like digital sampling program Social Nature, which allows influencers to select health brands they would like to try in exchange for a review. This also lets brands like Social Nature get products in the hands of core consumers in targeted geographic locations.