Plant-based products in grocery retail will grow only if they can overcome three challenges: taste, price, and availability.
That’s one of the insights from Dan Magliocco, president of Danone Canada who participated in a panel at the first Canada-led international plant-based conference that took place November 1 and 2 at the Westin Harbour Castle hotel in Toronto.
“Plant Forward: The future of food is here” was co-hosted by Plant-Based Foods of Canada, Pulse Canada, and Protein Industries Canada.
More than 230 people attended the two-day event to gain insights into how to grow the category in retail and foodservice. The event was a mixture of speakers and panelists who highlighted innovations and solutions in the plant-based sector in Canada and across the globe.
“At Plant Forward we saw on display the very best of Canadian ingenuity and climate-focused thinking," says Leslie Ewing, executive director of Plant Based Foods of Canada and a co-host of the conference. “Canadian plant-based food and ingredient companies showed how they are bringing innovation to bear in every part of our modern food supply. We heard that when we find ways to work together and integrate our efforts, this fast-growing industry will deliver an even greater impact for Canada and the world.”
Danone Canada’s Magliocco says there is a “tremendous opportunity” to grow the category, “but we can’t make it difficult for consumers. We’ve got some amazing products being developed and the growth we’ve seen as an industry has been explosive, but we’re still only in the infancy of plant-based.”
He cites beverages, the most developed category for plant-based, to prove his point.
“Plant-based beverages have a 40 per cent household penetration versus 94 per cent on milk. You would think on those penetration rates in any other category you should command about a third of the volume in total, but plant-based beverages only account for less than 10 per cent of total dairy consumption. So, we need to continue to go after those behaviours already engrained in consumers, like pouring it over cereal, but deliver a product that truly delivers on taste and is not a trade-off…we know we have to get into mainstream. At Danone we have a saying ‘every time you eat and drink you vote on the world you want’ and I think that’s true, so please don’t make it hard for us to make that choice as a consumer.”
Magliocco participated on a panel with Adam Grogan, president of Greenleaf Foods and Murad Al-Katib, president and CEO of AGT Food and Ingredients.
Naniss Gadel-Rab, general manager, nutrition for Unilever Canada and Kim Frankovich, global vice president, sustainability for Griffith Foods, discussed the challenges and opportunities to achieve sustainability goals.
Gadel-Rab noted that the plant-based movement is the solution to many of the world’s problems, including the opposing challenges of two billion people who lack nutrition and two billion people suffering from obesity.
“Plant-based is a must and at Unilever we made a commitment to have over $1 billion in sales be plant-based. We can drive sustainability and still drive profit and that’s our mission, to be a force for good for people and for the planet. Every individual, no matter where they live or what their budget or lifestyle, we believe everyone has a right to affordable and nutritious food and to have a choice of what you put on your plate.”
On day two of the event, a second panel explored plant-based perspectives of North American retailers and included Charles Buhagiar, senior category manager at Metro Ontario and Holly Adrien, natural and organic strategy and innovation manager for The Kroger Co. in the U.S.
During a discussion with Grocery Business, Kroger’s Adrien discussed plant-based strategies the large U.S. retailer is exploring, including analysis of plant-based merchandising locations through different techniques such as software simulation models and other approaches, noting that the jury is still out on the best techniques to help grow the plant-based category in grocery retail.