Rebrand Produce Aisle As ‘Plant-Based Nutrition’


Look at any trending food news and you’ll see an abundance of information about plant-based diets‭. ‬This nutritional movement encompasses more than just vegan or vegetarian‭, ‬and includes a broader segment called‭ ‬“flexitarians‭.‬”‭ ‬

These consumers are looking to cut back on meat occasions‭, ‬rather than completely eliminating meat‭. ‬We already see the power of‭ ‬this trend with the increase in nut-based milk options‭ (‬almond milk‭), ‬veggie burgers and other meat alternatives‭. ‬

Mintel‭, ‬a major food and beverage research company‭, ‬named plant-powered eating as one of the fastest growing global food trends‭.‬‭ ‬According to Nielsen‭, ‬nearly 40%‭ ‬of Americans are trying to eat more plant-based foods‭, ‬and Mintel found 58%‭ ‬reported desiring‭ ‬less meat in diets‭. ‬This statistic is even higher for Millennials at 67%‭.‬

Sounds positive for produce right‭? ‬After all‭, ‬produce is the original plant-based diet‭. ‬But it’s not so simple‭. ‬The packaged foods industry has really capitalized on this opportunity‭, ‬promoting processed plant-based options‭ ‬such as nut-milks‭, ‬meat alternatives and beans‭. ‬Accordingly‭, ‬consumer attention is shifting to plant-based processed foods‭. ‬Consumers are also confused over health benefits and how plant-based diets can nourish everyone from athletes to families‭. ‬As we see growth in this area‭, ‬it’s crucial for the produce industry to not only be part of the conversation‭, ‬but to own this trend‭. ‬

As the current situation stands‭, ‬I don’t believe produce is getting credit for this shift‭, ‬even though we have the most authentic claim to be the leader‭. ‬So‭, ‬how do we‭ ‬reposition our products so consumers think of fresh fruits‭, ‬vegetables and nuts in the same space as processed plant-based products‭? ‬We must find a way to lead this segment and in some ways disrupt ourselves‭. ‬We must look for new ways to use merchandising‭ ‬and signage techniques to reposition produce in consumers’‭ ‬minds‭.‬

Several produce efforts are already in sync with this concept‭. ‬At‭ ‬The Wonderful Company‭, ‬we work with dietitians across the country to tout key health benefits of products‭, ‬such as POM Wonderful fresh pomegranates and juice‭, ‬to the health community‭. ‬Leveraging retail dietitians to communicate healthy messages helps consumers understand how produce fits into the plant-based trend‭. ‬Every February‭, ‬we work with registered dietitian teams at local retailers for American‭ ‬Heart Month to share heart-healthy snacking ideas‭, ‬including Wonderful Pistachios‭, ‬for the Big Game‭. ‬Avocados from Mexico’s Avocado University equips chefs‭, ‬dietitians and foodservice professionals to develop and promote plant-based options and heath‭ ‬benefits‭. ‬

Retailers can also use in-store POS displays in produce and outside the department to remind consumers how produce fits into health goals‭. ‬Especially promoting produce as a plant-based option outside the produce department will gain more exposure with shoppers‭. ‬We experience noteworthy success when our Wonderful Halos Grove of Goodness high-graphic bins are merchandised in other parts of the store‭.‬

We also must get outside the industry and connect with food thought leaders‭. ‬The Produce Marketing Association‭ (‬PMA‭) ‬has been working to insert produce into the general cultural movement of food‭. ‬PMA’s chief marketing officer‭, ‬Lauren M‭. ‬Scott‭, ‬was a panelist at this year’s South by Southwest event alongside Lisa Cork of Fresh Produce Marketing and myself‭. ‬This allowed us to discuss healthier choices through produce with a greater audience‭. ‬Additionally‭, ‬the first Plant-Based Nutrition Leadership Symposium‭, ‬held in April in‭ ‬Los Angeles‭, ‬and made possible by Wonderful Pistachios‭, ‬was created to empower credible nutrition experts with insights around‭ ‬the benefits of plant-based nutrition and help shift consumer behavior toward healthier eating patterns‭.‬

Our industry needs to come together to shift consumer thinking around what it means to be plant-based‭. ‬People generally know fruits‭, ‬vegetables and nuts are healthy‭, ‬and the produce department certainly occupies a sizeable footprint in the store‭. ‬However‭, ‬if we don’t energize the department‭, ‬we’re not going to have continued share of this segment‭. ‬We must evolve with consumer eating patterns‭. ‬It’s not just about gleaning more sales‭; ‬it’s about shifting the perception of how consumers relate to produce‭. ‬

At the South by Southwest conference‭, ‬I presented the analogy of playing in a sandbox‭, ‬where the sandbox is the competitive frame of reference‭. ‬Your strategy depends a lot on what sandbox you find yourself in‭. ‬For example‭, ‬pistachios can be in the nut sandbox‭, ‬the snacking sandbox or the produce sandbox‭. ‬Fruits‭, ‬vegetables and nuts can be in the produce sandbox‭, ‬or we can be in the‭ ‬plant-based nutrition sandbox‭. ‬This second sandbox allows us to expand our coverage and competition to other parts of the store‭ ‬and capture more eating occasions‭.‬

Our industry faces many challenging headwinds on a daily basis‭, ‬including weather and food safety‭. ‬This is our opportunity to harness a strong tailwind to propel us forward‭. ‬The more closed-in you are in terms of your scope‭, ‬the more closed-in your opportunities will be‭. ‬By broadening the sandbox‭, ‬it widens our thinking and helps us compete in a‭ ‬greater market‭, ‬and in the end‭, ‬inspire healthier eating choices‭.‬

Adam Cooper is senior vice president of marketing for The Wonderful Company in Los Angeles