As consumers’ buying habits change and trends toward healthy eating transform expectations in-store and in-restaurant, how can traditional outlets keep pace? How are forward-thinking companies changing to meet consumers’ needs? How do traditional bakery and protein providers adapt to an increasingly popular plant-based diet? These are big questions with which the dairy, deli, bakery, and specialty food industries are grappling.
I recently spoke with Julie Altobello, Sr. Marketing Manager, Health & Authenticity, for Rich Products to learn more about plant-based food trends and how retailers can reap rewards by catering to increasingly health- and ethics-conscious consumers.
From icings and cakes to pizzas and parfaits, Rich’s has been delivering creative options to customers in foodservice, retail, in-store bakery, deli, and prepared foods channels since the 1940s. The company has a storied history, an expansive product line, and a family-owned ethos that’s found purchase with customers throughout the globe. And, though the company may be known for “decadent” desserts, I quickly found out Rich’s has also been an innovator in the plant-based space, offering a number of solutions to help its customers continue to thrive in a changing landscape.
Q: Tell me a little bit about Rich’s experience regarding plant-based foods: What are you hearing from customers?
Julie Altobello: Rich’s has been busy developing plant-based solutions to meet the changing needs of consumers. We know consumers are turning to the broad universe of plant-based foods for a variety of reasons. We are seeing an increase in demand for whole, or less processed foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes, as well as plant-based substitutes and alternatives for traditionally animal-based foods like milk, meat, and eggs.
Our customers see the need to offer plant-based across all day parts, channels, and segments. People are looking for less-processed plant-based foods wherever they are—be it at the convenience store, prepared foods section, or the office cafeteria. It has wide appeal.
Q: How is the company meeting the needs of a growing number of plant-based food eaters and enthusiast—be they vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, or simply health-conscious?
JA: Consumers looking for plant-based options aren’t just vegans or vegetarians, who in actuality, only make up a relatively small portion of the population. The real force behind this shift is coming from mainstream consumers who are looking to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diets for a variety of reasons ranging from health to ethical drivers. In fact, according to a 2017 Health Focus study—60 percent of consumers stated they were cutting back on meat-based eating. That’s a huge number.
When developing solutions for these consumers, first and foremost, we focus on flavor. If a food is plant-based or not, it still needs to be tasty. Then we focus on clarity and transparency around what’s in our products. We have a broad portfolio that meets the variety of needs consumers are turning toward plant-based products to solve. Options range from vegan, whole grain options, and gluten-free. We then work with our customers to help them incorporate these items into delicious menu items that everyone will enjoy.
Q: What are some of the offerings that Rich’s has developed to meet this need?
JA: Our Plant-Based Cooking Creme is a complete liquid dairy replacement. It’s the first of its kind and can be used just like dairy in many recipes, all while satisfying the need for many dietary preferences and restrictions. Our customers have been making everything from great tasting soups to sauces and ice cream with Rich’s Plant-Based Cooking Creme.
And then there’s pizza. We know everyone loves pizza night and our Seasoned Cauliflower and Broccoli Cheddar plant-based pizza crusts are extremely popular. These crusts use vegetables as their primary ingredient and are gluten-free. They are versatile and can be used as pizza crusts, flatbreads, or even to make panini.
Q: Does the company anticipate plant-based eating to continue to grow?
JA: Plant-based is here to stay. Eating more less processed, plant-based foods is better for our overall health and the health of our planet. As operators continue to explore and develop creative flavors, it will be even easier for people to choose plant-based options. The momentum is behind plant-based and we’re just scratching the surface of what delicious plant-based menus can look like.
Q: How has plant-based eating affected traditional protein categories? How can we position traditional protein category offerings to best take advantage of plant-based eating trends?
JA: Traditional proteins are still relevant. People are simply opting to choose higher quality sources and limit their portions. Animal-based proteins can be used to build flavor and make plants more delicious. Blended burgers with mushroom and beef are a great example of this. The two flavors and textures enhance each other.
For operators, when creating a dish, starting with plant-based is a great way to appeal to a wide variety of consumers. Then you can allow those who want additional protein (animal or otherwise) to add on and further customize their meal.
Keep reading Deli Market News for more insights into emerging trends, new products, and ways in which we, as an industry, can capitalize on the latest and greatest ideas in the deli space.