With inflation remaining elevated and consumers saying they’re adjusting their shopping behaviors as a result, how can retailers best promote and position their plant-based assortments for success?

First, it’s vital to recognize the varied factors driving trial and repeat purchases of plant-based alternatives. Yes, consumers’ stated interest in incorporating more plants and plant-based foods into their diet (a goal expressed by 58% of Americans in 2021, according to Datassential research) is a motivating factor. But environmental and animal-welfare concerns also are increasingly driving plant-based purchases, especially for younger consumers.

"More and more consumers are turning to plant-based options that align with their values and desire to have a positive impact on personal and planetary health,” said Julie Emmett, senior director of retail partnerships for the Plant Based Foods Association, in March in an annual report on the U.S. plant-based foods market from PBFA, the Good Food Institute and market researcher SPINS.

Moreover, millennials and Gen Zers are increasing their online food spending at the fastest rate, according to SPINS data, and plant-based products—whether frozen burger patties or refrigerated plant-based grinds—don’t face the “I want to see it in store before I buy it” hurdle that conventional meats still do. Time-crunched consumers also still are eagerly seeking flavorful, foolproof meal-makers, and plant-based choices that don’t require cooking to a precise temperature to avoid food-safety issues can help shoppers get dinner on the table quickly and confidently. Taken together, these indicate a prime opportunity for promoting plant-based alternatives online—where plant-based’s biggest fans and those most open to trying them are more likely to shop.

In addition, there’s the price factor: With prices for conventional meats up more than 10% year over year, there is opportunity for retailers to promote plant-based alternatives as right-sized and right-priced choices for budget-watching shoppers. Plant-based product makers, too, are working to more closely align their prices with those of conventional meat counterparts, noted Chicago-based consulting firm Kearney.

“Last year, Impossible Foods, for example, dropped prices by 15% to 20%, and Beyond Meat announced it aims to underprice animal protein in at least one category by 2024,” Kearney noted in a report this spring on the evolving plant-based market.

Further, with production costs now lining up more evenly for plant-based and conventional meat products, “retailers and private-label producers such as Simple Truth, Aldi and President’s Choice, which have lower marketing costs and reduced R&D spending as well as scaled production capacity and high-volume distribution, [can] offer products that the average consumer will see as more affordable,” Kearney’s report points out.