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PBFA: How the F&B industry can meet plant-based demand [Interview]

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Meeting growing consumer demand for plant-based products means ensuring that robust and resilient supply chains are in place, and that market opportunities can be fully exploited. Rachel Dreskin, CEO of the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA), discusses the body’s role in supporting the US industry and explains why the transition to plant-based diets is a global concern.
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The rapid expansion of the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) in the US is a strong indicator of the robust health of this sector, and underlines the benefits of collective action. Founded in 2016, the Association has grown from 23 original members to over 300, active along the supply chain in nearly every food category, from plant-based meats and eggs through to dairy.  

“PBFA was established to represent the interests of the plant-based foods industry,” explains Rachel Dreskin. “At the time, there were bills popping up attempting to restrict plant-based products from being labelled clearly, using identifiable language and terms. Working to eliminate these restrictions that put plant-based foods at an unfair disadvantage was, in large part, the key driver behind the formation of the PBFA.”

Tapping new opportunities

The Association’s work has expanded rapidly since then. In addition to advocating for a level regulatory playing field, the PBFA runs proactive strategies for farmers and suppliers, as well as buyers and retailers, to ensure that plant-based food opportunities can be fully tapped by all. 

"We create partnerships with grocery retailers to help shape their merchandising strategies, both in-store and online,” says Dreskin. “Buyers are increasingly interested in products that take into account issues such as environmental impact, animal welfare and health, and plant-based products can play a key role in meeting these goals. These partnerships are becoming an increasingly important area of focus for us.”

In order to develop these strategies, PBFA codes and analyses data. For example, a retail sales data report is compiled using SPINS data, in partnership with the Good Food Institute. Broken up into categories, the data helps to paint an accurate picture of the size and growth of the plant-based foods industry over time. This, combined with consumer research from Mintel and panel data from SPINS, provides insight into consumer attitudes and behaviours behind the growth.

“It also helps us to identify the dollar opportunity,” continues Dreskin. “For example, we expect plant-based meats to reach the same level of market penetration as plant-based milks. We now know that the size of this opportunity is USD 14 billion. Being able to quantify the market opportunity helps buyers to develop the strategies they need to capture this opportunity.”

The PBFA has also run control store tests to discover how retailers can better position plant-based foods. Working with Kroger, the Association found that plant-based products situated in the same set as animal-based products, sold better.

“We learned that consumers often didn’t realise how many plant-based options were available,” explains Dreskin. “These are consumers that might not typically go to the vegan section of the store.” Positioning plant-based alternatives in the same set as animal-based products therefore gave consumers, perhaps looking to cut down on their meat consumption, more choice.”

“What is interesting is that demand for plant-based is increasing in all parts of the US,” says Dreskin. “This isn’t just an urban, coastal phenomenon, but something that everyone is interested in. We also found high levels of repeat purchasing which means that market growth is likely to be sustained.”

A global movement

In order to meet this growing demand, strong, robust supply chains are needed. This is another area of focus for the PBFA. “We try to help brands who might be facing challenges in sourcing domestically, or who might have had their supply chains affected by COVID,” says Dreskin.  

“We connect them with suppliers, and also look at how these challenges intersect with what is happening at the government level. For example, what does the opportunity look like, in terms of acreage, to grow crops domestically that are in high demand within the plant-based industry?  We see ourselves as well positioned to play a key role in helping foster sustainable and resilient supply chains.”

Dreskin also points out that the transition towards plant-centric diets is not limited to the US, but is a global concern. Opportunities to meet with stakeholders in other geographic markets are critically important.

“This transition to predominantly plant-based diets needs to happen at the international level, and there is a lot of energy fuelling this shift” she says. “The plant-based foods industry is so exciting and innovative and aligned with consumer values, but it also has a critical role to play in helping us meet our climate goals.”

Be sure to catch the Plant Based Foods Association’s presentations titled Evaluating the plant-based retail market in the US and Domestic sourcing of plant-based ingredients: Challenges and opportunities in the US at the Fi Global CONNECT: Plant-based ingredients in the Spotlight online event.

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