In 2008, just 3.7% of Americans identified as vegetarian or vegan, according to Harris Interactive polling data.
More recent data from Pew shows those numbers have nearly tripled in less than a decade, with 9% identifying as mostly or strictly vegetarian or vegan in 2016.
This probably doesn’t come as a shock to any supermarket veteran, but what might be more surprising is that there’s evidence that what was already a relatively fast-moving trend might be taking off in an even more dramatic way.
Take a look at Google search data from the last five years on “going vegan” and “going vegetarian” from the last 12 months.
What does this mean for grocers?
Especially if your stores are in urban areas, where people are more likely to identify as vegetarian or vegan, what seemed like a trend to monitor and address at the fringes now looks more like a change in consumer behavior that warrants immediate attention–from the highest levels of supermarket leadership on down.
If you work for a supermarket, there are a few key areas to focus on when adapting your stores to cater to vegan and vegetarian customers.
How can supermarkets better accommodate vegetarian and vegan customers?
With vegan-related searches nearly tripling and vegetarian-related searches nearly doubling in recent months, grocers need to more than ever focus on stocking diverse, fresh products.
Find ways to devote more space to “fresh” foods
It’s no secret that consumer demand for fresh, unprocessed is on the rise. Even convenience and drug stores are getting in on the action.
The new data on increased consumer interest in vegetarianism and veganism underscores this trend.
Many grocers are now devoting more and more store space to fresh food by compressing traditional products in the center of the store and to make room for more fresh foods around the perimeter.
Whether it’s increasing floor space for your fruit and veggie selection or expanding hot meal options to include veggie options, the rising demand for freshness doesn’t seem likely to taper off anytime soon.
Differentiate your produce offerings
If your stores are devoting more floor space to fresh produce, the next logical step is to find ways to differentiate your offering to give vegetarian and vegan customers reason to keep coming back.
As innovation in the food service space grows, today’s consumers are increasingly exposed to unique vegetable dishes. Smart grocers can take advantage of this by offering up new and exciting fruit and vegetable varietals, or even up-and-coming hybrid veggies like broccoflower and sunchokes.
Supermarkets that embrace a farmer’s market approach to featuring local, seasonal produce can build goodwill with consumers looking for fresh vegetarian and vegan recipe ideas.
Make sure there’s always a “veggie option”
In recent years, progressive grocers found success in competing with restaurants by expanding hot bars and buffets and increasing stock of grab-and-go meals.
More recently, some supermarkets began experimenting with meal kits complete with recipes in an acknowledgement to the growing popularity of services like Hello Fresh and Blue Apron.
If your stores include these and other services, make sure vegetarian and vegan customers aren’t left out.
Whether that’s devoting more buffet space to plant-based protein, offering a vegetarian meal kit option that is or can easily be made vegan, or simply expanding your stores’ grab-and-go offerings to include vegetarian and vegan dishes, always providing a “veggie option” can go a long way toward making vegetarians and vegans feel welcome in your stores.
Partly because the United States does not have a rich vegetarian- and vegan-friendly food culture history, vegetarian and vegan consumers are turning to other parts of the world to find new and exciting non-animal meal ideas.
Various consumer reports from the last year cited Japanese, Filipino, and Middle Eastern foods as rising in popularity in recent times, which seems to suggest that this trend extends beyond the rise in vegetarianism and veganism.
Do your stores include a wide variety of ethnic foods on their shelves? What about your hot bars?
Ensure your customers never find expired product
Whether it’s plant-based vs. animal based, local vs. non-local, or traditional vs. ethnic, consumers thinking more and more about where their food comes from.
This makes it more important than ever that customers never find expired product on your shelves. Expiration date tools can help grocers manage expiring products more effectively, while providing insight into which products could be ordered less frequently or have reduced facings.