Vegetarians And Vegans: Is This An Opportunity For You?

by Paul Schlossberg
Posted On: 1/8/2019

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  Paul Schlossberg
Why should you do anything different in your business about vegetarians and vegans? Maybe you've had some requests for specific items. Are you selling any vegetarian and vegan products?

Let's dig a bit deeper into this subject:

1. How many people in the U.S. are active vegetarians and vegans?
2. Among the market segments we serve, where should we focus?
3. What exactly do vegetarians and vegans eat or not eat? Is there more to it than what they eat?
4. What is new from product suppliers?
5. How should you capitalize on it?  

The Number Of Vegetarians And Vegans

We found some data on Wikipedia based on a Gallup poll in July 2018. It indicates that 5% - 8% of adults (age 18 and over) are on vegetarian or vegan diets. That means there are between 12.6 and 20.2 million people who are on non-meat diets. Vegans represent a subset – 3% of those surveyed, almost 7.6 million people. The number of people on these diets has not changed dramatically in recent years. But, as you see below, the sales of vegetarian and vegan foods has increased at a very fast pace.

Which Market Segments Should We Focus On?

Two of our key markets are at-work and at-colleges. Looking at a number of sources, the U.S. workforce is about 129 million people, Let's add to that the number of students in public and private colleges and universities – which, based on several resources, is about 20 million people (and that does not include faculty and staff). Keeping it simple, we have the potential to compete for purchases from more than 150 million people.

If you are serving colleges or technology businesses, it is likely you'll find a good number of vegetarians and vegans. Healthcare facilities and hospitals should be considered, too.

How Do Vegetarians And Vegans Differ?

According to atasteofhealth.org, "Vegetarian describes a diet; vegan can be a lifestyle." They add, "…vegetarian only describes the food that one consumes… Being vegan…is much more than just a diet. Vegans strive to avoid animal products in all aspects of their lives including clothing, cosmetic products, household items, and of course food."

Some people are vegetarians or vegans by choice. For others, it is a necessity due to religious or health reasons. Our oldest son and his wife are vegans by choice. He became a vegetarian more than 20 years ago while at college. Over the years, he learned more and embraced a vegan lifestyle.

By the way, in November, our whole family was at their home for Thanksgiving. It was our first vegan holiday. They cooked from scratch and made some great-tasting dishes. They were wonderful hosts and it was a great week with them. We've already made one of their recipes (and will make others). It's "better for you" food and the taste and textures were really enjoyable.  

There are people who are all-in on their vegetarian or vegan diet. Others are more casual about vegetarian eating. They might be avoiding beef for dietary reasons or because they are concerned about the impact of meat consumption as a contributor to environmental issues. From healthline.com "the most common types of vegetarians include:

● Lacto-ovo vegetarians: Vegetarians who avoid all animal flesh, but do consume dairy and egg products.
● Lacto vegetarians: Vegetarians who avoid animal flesh and eggs, but do consume dairy products.
● Ovo vegetarians: Vegetarians who avoid all animal products except eggs.
● Vegans: Vegetarians who avoid all animal and animal-derived products."

What's New In Vegetarian And Vegetarian Products?

Major food companies are focusing on vegetarian and vegan products. It's a big market. If you walk the supermarket aisles or visit "health food" stores, you'll see an almost endless array of small and medium-sized brands on the shelves with an increasing assortment of foods, snacks and beverages.  

A recent article at plantbasednews.org noted that "…the plant-based foods industry has experienced dollar sales growth of 20% over the last year with sales topping $3.3 billion."

Food manufacturers have struggled to find growth in many of their traditional product lines. There are far too many issues involved to get deeper on this subject here. With 20% growth in plant-based food sales, it's easy to see why major food brands are going after this category. Perhaps they will introduce internally developed new products. But, if history is an indicator, we might expect to see acquisitions made by leading food companies.

News at Bloomberg noted that "(Nestle) is gearing up for its biggest push yet into the booming vegan market…" They will add the Incredible Burger to their Garden Gourmet brand line-up." Other companies, large and small, are getting in this game "…Unilever and new entrants like Beyond Meat, backed by Bill Gates and Leonardo DiCaprio...to find alternatives that resonate with a new generation of consumers turned off by animal protein and high cholesterol content."

Over the years, there have been a lot of protein substitutes based on tofu or other non-meat sources.

Apparently, the Impossible Burger is a game changer versus the standards of the past. It's a plant-based food with taste and texture and juiciness which is said to be just like a "real" hamburger. Did you know that burger chain White Castle is introducing The Impossible Slider at more than 1,000 of their stores? At their website it says "Sizzles, tastes and smells just like real beef – but guess what? It's made from plants and has 14g. of protein. Exclusively at White Castle." It is being sold for $1.99 and can be ordered with cheese or not.

Research and development initiatives at food companies, large and small, is being directed at delivering more protein-based meat substitutes. You can expect, at the same time, that snack and beverage products are also being targeted. Having spent over 30 years working with extraordinary food scientists and experimental chefs, my confidence is very high that these efforts will deliver revolutionary results. The rapid expansion of vegetarian and vegan products will accelerate in the coming years. The food industry will soon be offering a much more diverse line-up of vegetarian and vegan foods, snacks and beverages.

How Should You Capitalize On This Opportunity?

It's time for you to get smarter and become more focused on the vegetarians and vegans who are the shoppers at your locations. Here is my suggested action plan:

1. Visit specialty retail markets in your area. In Austin, for example, there are lots of independents plus Sprouts, Natural Grocers, Whole Foods and more. Don't forget to check the aisles in your local supermarket. Get familiar with the brand names. Pay attention to which brands and SKUs have the most linear feet of shelf space. Be certain that you make note of pricing – especially for single-serve SKUs.

2. Visit local colleges and some of the workplaces you serve, especially tech companies. You can learn from what they're selling. Do you know about "Meatless Monday?" It's been popular on college campuses. They offer an implementation guide you can download. Meatless Monday does not mean that you stop selling meat products. What you do is increase the number and variety of meatless items on the menu that day.

3. Talk to vegetarians and vegans you know personally. It might be a family member or a friend or one of their children. Talk to younger people. You'll probably be surprised by their knowledge and insights.

You can increase shopper participation at our locations if you can make your product offering more appealing to vegetarians and vegans. That is one way you might sell more stuff.





» Paul Schlossberg is president of D/FW Consulting, working with clients to merchandise and market products in impulse-intense selling environments, such as vending, onsite foodservice and convenience stores. Based in the Austin, TX, area, he can be reached at Paul@DFWConsulting.net or (972) 877-2972 or www.DFWConsulting.net.