Supermarkets innovate with private label plant-based ranges

9 Jan 2024

Plant-based product ranges are an important part of retailers’ private label innovation efforts – and represent an important way for supermarkets to reduce their environmental impact.

At Fi Europe, a diverse selection of industry professionals came together to discuss how retailers are driving sustainability through own label plant-based foods. The panel discussion included Martin Ranninger, co-director at V Label International, Dirk Liebenberg, senior project manager at ProVeg International, Indy Kaur, founder of Plant Futures and Michael Janzr, buyer of ecology conscious nutrition at Lidl.

Supermarkets innovate with private label plant-based ranges
© Fi Europe 2023

Lidl aligns its efforts to EAT Lancet Commission policy

When it comes to broad sustainability measures, Janzr pointed to how Lidl has pegged its sustainable food policy to the Planetary Health Diet, which was established by the EAT Lancet Commission in 2019, mapping out ways the planet can sustainably feed a population of 10 million people by 2050.

“The Planetary Health Diet is mainly plant-based with a small part being animal-based,” said Janzr. “But you look at the environmental footprint of animal-based food, and 75% of land use is devoted to animal food production, accounting for almost 70% of the CO2 emissions. So, if you increase the intake of plant-based foods, it is going to have a more sustainably overall.”

Liebenberg agreed with this, adding his thoughts about how retailers can improve their environmental footprints through plant-based foods.

“When you look at the whole picture, the products that you sell make the biggest chunk of your climate footprint,” said Liebenberg. “So, if we can promote more plant-based eating, we can make a big impact or sustainability.”

Omnivores: The next generation plant-based consumer

Liebenberg pointed to a study that ProVeg International recently commissioned in 10 different European countries, highlighting what consumers are looking for when it comes to plant-based foods. The survey results showed that consumers are picking up on the trend for plant-based foods as meat alternatives, backed by the expectation that those offerings need to be healthy, while taste and affordability were the other two important elements.

The survey results reflected the fact that these expectations were not always being met; this was also illustrated by the fact that in the past two years, sales of plant-based foods have stagnated in the two biggest European markets, Germany and the UK.

Kaur also pointed to research carried out by Plant Futures, which shows how the expectations and beliefs of the all-important omnivore consumers are shifting as attitude to plant-based foods evolve.

“Omnivores are open to reducing their meat consumption and eating more plant-based foods,” said Kaur. “They have this belief that meat is nutritionally necessary, but a flexitarian doesn't believe that as much. What we now need to do is really start thinking about how we attract this new type of omnivore consumer, essentially the next generation plant-based consumer, and focus on influencing their behavior.”

Private label plant-based brands are ‘here to stay’

On the topic of opportunities in the plant-based foods category, the panelists all agreed that a lot of the potential can be fulfilled by private label companies, who are in a strong position to take advantage of the complete supply chain.

Ranninger said that both private labels and brands were both well placed to take advantage of growing interest in plant-based foods. “Some of the first moves in the market were made by private label businesses, and they were not always the most fortunate, which does suggest that there is room for brands to step in… but I also think that private label brands are here to stay in this space and will only grow.”

Consumer trust is make or break

When it came to consumer trust, the panelists all considered this to be of vital importance, particularly with respect to sustainability and the quality of the product, while also stressing that significant work must be done to win over consumer confidence in plant-based foods.

Kaur said: “If people do not trust food, they are not going to buy it, it is as simple as that. An analysis of the EU Smart Protein Project shows us that about 40% of the population don't know if they can trust plant-based meat. If that is true, it is incredibly worrying.

“But we can learn a lot within the plant-based sector from the meat and dairy sectors, because these sectors do things very well. There is constant reassurance to win trust in farmers. Particularly with various certifications, like RSPCA-approved [Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] or Red Tractor, or different types of food safety certifications. Trusted retailers can also do their part by introducing own-label plant-based foods with messaging that provides the same level of reassurance.”

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