Supermarkets and Online Retailers Are Competing for Your Plant-Based Dollars
It used to be you'd be lucky to find Silk soy milk in the grocery store when searching for non-dairy milk options, but now with the explosion of plant-based consumerism across the country, mainstream grocers and online retailers are increasingly competing for your plant-based dollars, and it's just the start. In what seems like a cascade of announcements, the past few months have seen new online and brick and mortar retailers launching, others coming to the US from Canada and Europe, and still more raising millions of VC dollars to expand from small local operations to those that carry thousands of SKUs of plant-based products delivered nationwide.
In a world where plant-based cheese is expected to be a $4.6 billion industry in just a few years, it's no surprise that retailers are scrambling to be your go-to store of choice. According to the Good Food Institute, the plant-based market is already at $5 Billion a year. The growth of plant-based foods that directly replace animal products has surged 29% in the past two years to $5 billion, as of March of last year. Since the pandemic hit, it's grown even faster.
As more consumers choose plant-based alternatives to their traditional meat and dairy foods, the stakes are rising and competition is heating up for plant-based consumer dollars. In the past few months, specialty vegan and plant-based markets have announced to great fanfare that they are launching in every state, from Florida to California, and mainstream markets like Whole Foods and Kroeger, and Trader Joes are competing to see who can offer the biggest number of plant-based or vegan SKUs, to make sure you know that they carry your favorite almond-nut parmesan cheese or cashew butter spread and will deliver.
With the growth of health-minded shoppers looking for plant-based and vegan-friendly products, stores are marketing themselves as vegan-friendly to the 23 percent of consumers that are eating more plant-based as of last year. The best places to shop online just exploded with the launch of Vejii, which will offer 3,200 plant-based products online, according to the founders, who intend it to be the market leader in short order. Competition exists in the form ofo Vedgco, which just grew from its roots as a Hawaii-based retailer to deliver to the lower 48, as well as brick and mortar selections dedicated to vegan products. New stores are gaining traction, with the opening of PlantX in Southern California and Vegan Fine Foods in South Florida, a Black-owned company that expects to open in every state by 2024.
Add to this array of vegan or plant-based choices at mainstream online retailers. For instance, Thrive Market, which is now a Certified B Corp, the largest grocery company to be so designated, meaning it gives back and does good for the planet, no small feat for a food retailer. And of course, any list of where to buy your vegan groceries includes behemoth Whole Foods, which offers same-day delivery through Amazon Prime customers within driving distance, and prides itself in one of the largest selections of plant-based meats, dairy-free ice cream, plant- and nut-based milk, creamers, and more.
Now into this fray, enters European budget-friendly grocery store Lidl, which is also launching their own line of vegan products, starting with cheeses. The retailer is buying up major market spaces in malls across the country, and boasting that they have more vegan and plant-based SKUs than, say Tesco, which is also eager to let London shoppers know they are offering more plant-based items every day. The race for plant-based consumer dollars is on.
Just last week Lidl’s announced that it is launching three varieties of new vegan cheeses and a plan to rapidly expand US locations, you can expect to add a new affordable, vegan-friendly grocery store to your list of favorites places to shop.
The expansion of vegan grocery stores and online retailers is in response to demand
Since the pandemic buying spree sales of plant-based foods are up 35 percent, as more Americans who do not define themselves as vegan or even plant-based want to try the new meatless offerings that are flooding the market.
The flexitarian movement is being met by food companies that are releasing more plant-based alternatives every day, and health-conscious consumers are excited to try them. Nearly 23 percent of Americans have consumed plant-based meat products according to a study conducted by OnePoll, on behalf of Herbalife Nutrition
Lidl is the latest to offer a range of vegan offerings, jumping the pond to the US
Although only currently available at Lidl’s European stores, American customers will likely soon be able to enjoy the coconut-oil based line of cheeses: Lidl launched the product in the UK first, despite the brand being based in Europe. Luckily for plant-based shoppers in the US, Lidl’s been focused on simultaneously expanding its line of vegan products as well as its number of US locations. As of last summer, Lidl's 103 US locations and already began their expansion plan, with the most significant expansion planned for in New Jersey and Maryland.
U.S customers can expect to find Lidl’s shelves stocked with plant-based grocery shopping essentials with almond milk that comes in traditional, chocolate and “nog” variations, frozen vegan pizzas, burger patties, and vegan couscous and risotto mixes perfect for a warm, cozy dinner on a chilly night.
With Lidl’s increased expansion into the plant-based U.S market, the “grocery store war” over the “vegan dollar” has begun. Currently, TESCO, another UK based grocery chain, holds on to the title of having the most vegan meal options of any UK Supermarket, as determined by Garden of Life’s rankings. However, given the timing of Lidl’s U.S expansion during the plant-based grocery chain boom with chains like the Black-owned Vegan Fine Foods, which is raising money in anticipation of its nationwide expansion.
But watch as the online space heats up, between Vejii, the latest largest vegan retailer online, and Hawaii's wholesale store VEDGEco, and PlantX, which calls itself “the vegan Amazon" and which launched in Sand Diego from a home-base of Canada. PlantX announced plans to expand its locations throughout the U.S. In the meantime, plant-based grocery shoppers are the real winners: there has never been more access to options that allow for vegans to find great options without breaking the (piggy-free) bank.