The Retail Dietitian’s Opportunity in the Plant Forward Movement

The Retail Dietitian’s Opportunity in the Plant Forward Movement

June 10, 2020

By Monica Amburn, MS, RDN

U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods are booming. From 2017 to 2019, total plant-based food sales have increased 31%, and overall unit sales are up 8.5 percent compared to total U.S. food sales1. COVID-19 has fueled additional trial and adoption of plant-based products at explosive rates beyond the impact of panic-buying sales in March, with plant-based meats and proteins showing continual double-digit growth at retail even now that shopper habits are normalizing2. While this growth is exciting, there is no universal criteria for “plant-based”, and there is considerable confusion to what this terminology really means to shoppers. Findings from IFIC’s 2019 Food and Health Survey3 show that

  • 32% of shoppers believe plant-based is synonymous with vegan;
  • 30% of shoppers define it as a diet of mostly minimally processed food that come from plants, with limited amounts of animal meat, eggs and dairy;
  • 20% believe it to be a vegetarian diet that avoids meat;
  • 8% say it is a diet where you try to eat as many fruits and vegetables as possible, and no limits are placed on meat or other animal products.
  • 10% admit they are “not sure” as to what plant-based means.

As for individual plant-based foods, manufacturers are primarily self-identifying products as such on packaging. Recently the Plant Based Food Association partnered with NSF International to create the Certified Plant Based third party verification and certification program, which is only available to meat, egg and dairy alternative products that do not contain animal-derived ingredients4.

While there is confusion on the topic, retail dietitians are presented with a leadership opportunity to help retailers and consumers better understand that the plant-based/plant-forward movement is more of a spectrum, and not a one-size-fits-all diet or claim. Help shoppers with educational content to distinguish the differences between vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian and other plant-based diets and lifestyles. Based on sales, it’s clear that more shoppers than just those who identify as vegan or vegetarian are adopting plant-based foods, so it’s important to be inclusive and inviting in your messaging. Work with your retailer to define and understand your target audience and develop a plant-based message aligned with your retailer’s brand and product assortment. With this in place, you’ll be well positioned to execute meaningful plant-based product promotions with your team. As always, be sure to measure the pre and post sales impact of promoted products in order to prove the ROI of your related messaging, activities, and promotions.


1. Plant Based Food Association Press Release, July 12,2019.
2. Plant Based Food Association Press Release, May 26, 2020.
3. 2019 IFIC Food and Health Survey.
4. NSF International’s Certified Plant Based Criteria