The time for practicality and focus is here.
News of drooping sales is reinforcing what many manufacturers have been feeling – the wonderment days of plant-based is over. You know, when the wow factor of “can it be?” could get a brand to market, when venture capital felt like an eternal sun supporting field upon field of growth at all costs.
The full potential of plant-based is not withering away entirely – far from it. But it’s certainly shifting. We’re entering the next phase of maturation where focus and purpose is everything.
Foodservice remains fertile ground for plant-based innovation. It’s the ideal setting for consumers to try a new product – where it’s prepared by professionals they trust, which feels more comfortable than bringing something different into the home kitchen.
31% of consumers are trying to reduce the amount of meat and poultry they eat, according to research from 210 Analytics (2015-2023). Consumer interest remains strong for both meat analogs (we see you, plant bacon) and innovative dishes that highlight the unique attributes of plants for what they are (that’s you, mushroom chips).
The Way Forward
As more brands offer plant-based anything, menu adoption is predicted to slow. There is still plenty of room for foodservice brands to grow in this space – when the intentions are there. Brands must come to the table with unique and viable solutions for operators and convey their message strongly. Here are top considerations.
1. Identify the right buyer.
You know that price is a relentless motivating force across all segments. Beyond that, understand which foodservice buyers are best served by exactly what your product has to offer, and build your case around the specific problem it solves. For example:
- Helping C&U meet the demand and push for sustainability and innovation from students
- Creating a hero protein player at a better-for-you or vegan-centric chain
- Rounding out the menu as an effortless, veg-centric option at a mainstream burger joint
- Adding an allergen-free dessert that’s delicious enough to be truly indulgent
2. Contextualize “plant-based” as it relates to your identity.
“Plant-based” can be a catch-all – potentially, anything made without animal products. Be clear about where your brand stands in this space, as use that as solid footing for your positioning.
- Does your product exist solely to provide a plant-based alternative to familiar meat or dairy products? (e.g., burger patties or yogurt)
- Is your product in a mature category and it happens to be plant-based as well, which serves an added benefit? (e.g., nut butters, falafel)
- Is your product in a category that has always been plant-based but no one uses that term because it would feel out of context? (e.g., energy drinks)
3. Find your differentiators.
Increasingly, your target buyer may already have a product that covers similar bases as yours – a versatile non-dairy milk that performs just fine, an affordable egg substitute. You’ll have to convince them clearly why and how your product is better. Polish your brand differentiators until they shine and then rank them in order of brilliance. These are the gems that boost trial. Begin with broad buckets such as:
- Performance in the kitchen
- Exceptional taste
- Key ingredients and their origin stories
- Cleanliness of ingredient list
- Allergens (or lack thereof)
- Product variety, versatility, application potential
- Consumer brand recognition
4. Define your why.
Foodservice professionals need true brand partners they can rely on. You’re in business for good reason. Build out the full story of why your brand exists – centered on the buyer – to keep them loyal in the long-run. Be specific about timely topics like:
- How you enable the operator
- Health and nutrition profile
- Sustainability (e.g. fewer resources used in production, reduced greenhouse gas emissions)
- Animal welfare