- A new analysis covering the first five months of this year found that vegetarian-leaning grocery shoppers prefer to shop at Vons and Publix over specialty stores like Whole Foods and Sprouts Farmers Market. This could indicate consumers feel they don’t need to “spend their whole paycheck” at a specialty store to go meatless, marketing firm inMarket says in an analysis of its purchase and visitation data.
- Vons, a Southern California brand owned by Albertsons, could be a favorite due to its Los Angeles location, which has a large pool of vegetarians, the report notes. That could also be true for Sprouts, which placed third in the rankings and has a strong presence in the southwest U.S and in southern California. Sprouts is the top specialty market on the list, ahead of both Whole Foods and sixth-ranked Trader Joe’s.
- Florida-based Publix offers a large selection of meat alternatives within its more than 1,100 stores, which could attract cost-conscious plant eaters. Kroger, meanwhile, the largest U.S. grocery chain, introduced Beyond Meat to its customers in 2017, and continues to grow its vegetarian options, inMarket says.
These findings indicate that the public desire for plant-based foods has continued to march steadily into the mainstream.
“[Plant-based eating] isn’t niche — it’s powerful,” Steven Walton, general manager of research firm HealthFocus International, said during a presentation last year. “Once consumers make this move, few are going to go back.”
While consumers are increasingly less likely to label themselves as vegetarian, vegan or flexitarian, the number of Americans looking for meat alternatives to add to the menu continues to grow. More than a third of Americans practice meat-free days, Mintel reports, and 35% of Americans get most of their protein from sources other than red meat. Although just 6% of North Americans follow vegetarian diets and fewer than 3% call themselves vegan, Mintel says that in the past decade, consumers 40 and younger upped vegetable intake by more than half. Google searches of “vegan” have jumped by 90% in the past year or so and Walmart is asking its vendors to come up with more meat-free options.
Food suppliers are working to incorporate better flavors and variety in their meatless foods. The next generation of vegan burgers, led by Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger, moved into the mainstream last year when Safeway and Kroger began carrying it. Appearing in the meat aisle of Safeway and Kroger is proof that more people are starting to look for meat alternatives. It's also further evidence that Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and other makers of plant-based proteins are close to replicating the taste, texture and smell of meat.
As restaurants and grocery stores are able to branch out beyond dry tofu and bland veggie burgers, consumers are more likely to give plant-based foods a try. And as buyers purchase the meat alternatives, food producers feel more comfortable experimenting and bringing new plant-based products to market.
All of this isn’t to say people are turning away from meat. Walton has said he doesn’t believe meat versus plant-based foods is a zero-sum game, but that much of the trend stems from a desire to add more fruits and vegetables to daily diets — a shift he said is visible across every consumer demographic and age group. Consumers say they're also eating more meat alternatives due to concerns about animal welfare and the environmental impacts of producing meat.
As inMarket notes, Vons and Sprouts may find themselves on the top of the popularity list, in part, because they are located in areas with a high density of vegetarian and vegan consumers. But with so many traditional stores topping the analysis, one has to believe the crossover appeal of plant-based foods has had an impact on where people shop. As plant-based options move further into the mainstream, scale should both increase availability and decrease consumer costs.