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Taking place 15th-21st May 2023, National Vegetarian Week provides an opportunity for fine food retailers to highlight their meat-free options to flexitarian, vegetarian and veggie-curious customers.
As Mark Kacary, managing director at Norfolk Deli, explained, this could be as simple as showcasing vegetarian cheeses or freshly made salads. “As so much of the cheese we stock and sell is actually vegetarian, this is probably our top-selling vegetarian product.
“Some of the most popular vegetarian produce we sell tends to be things we make. Quiches, for example, are always incredibly popular as are our daily array of salads which many people are clearly buying as something that is more than some lettuce leaves, tomato and cucumber.”
But how can independent retailers capitalise on the week-long campaign to encourage customers to try more vegetarian fare and boost sales?
Catering to demand
In 2023, it is crucial that independent retailers keep an eye on trends and continued innovation so that consumers have delicious meat-free alternatives to their favourite foods.
This is something that Morten Toft Bech, CEO of Meatless Farm, firmly believes in, as he explained, “Given that two-thirds of consumers support initiatives such as eating more sustainable alternatives and carbon labelling on products, it’s crucial that independent retailers keep up with plant-based food trends and cater to the growing market.
“As more consumers identify as vegan, vegetarian and ‘flexitarian’, demand for meat-free ready meals grows – and as many as a quarter of consumers say they would like to see animal protein replaced with high-protein plant ingredients in ready meals. It would be a no-brainer to get these in stores.”
Indeed, flexitarianism is a growing trend that Mark has certainly identified. “I think that nowadays it’s very easy to put everything into two camps of meat eaters and vegans, and it’s easy to forget that there are many people who do not want to have meat with every single meal and yet also do not feel compelled to give up all animal related produce.
“It’s possible that as retailers we also forget exactly how much we sell is either vegetarian or in fact vegan-friendly without having to categorise them. For example, how many of us stop to think that pasta, tomato sauces, jams, chutneys and chocolate are largely vegetarian?
“We all need food that is vegetarian to maintain a healthy balanced diet such as pulses, grains and vegetables. I know there are some people who couldn’t live without meat (or so they think) but there are now many more people who would describe themselves as flexitarian and that’s a number far greater than the number of people who would categorise themselves as vegan.”
But as Morten explained, “Not all plant-based alternatives are made equally, and quality can vary, so it is crucial to stand out from the crowd and educate customers on the added benefits of plant-based and veggie products, so they can see why they should make simple swaps in their diet.”
Indeed, to stand out from the competition, it’s essential that independent retailers offer a diverse selection of products that recognise what consumers are seeking.
To find out what consumers want, Athena Lee, marketing manager at digital wholesaler ShelfNow, suggested, “Engaging with customers through social media and other online platforms to get feedback on the types of products they would like to see in-store is also crucial. By doing so, independent retailers can offer products that meet the specific needs and preferences of their customers.”
Capitalising on National Vegetarian Week
According to Olivia Sinclair, UK marketing manager at Planted, there are lots of ways to incentivise shoppers to try veggie food during National Vegetarian Week.
She told Speciality Food, “Whether it’s putting on a multi-buy promotion; in-store signage; recipe cards or perhaps an in-store competition – even simple signage flagging that it’s National Vegetarian Week will help spread awareness amongst shoppers to focus on getting more plants into their diet – and that’s no bad thing at all.
“Encourage swaps with recipes – we loved the recent Sainsburys campaign to swap chicken for chickpeas and lamb for lentils. Providing inspiration, and reminding people that meat is just one replaceable ingredient of many will encourage more people to try something new.”
Indeed, for Athena, social media is an essential tool for independent retailers looking to promote their meat-free products during National Vegetarian Week. She advised, “Retailers can share recipes and cooking tips on their social media platforms, highlighting the versatility and taste of their products. They can also use social media to collaborate with local restaurants or chefs to host cooking demonstrations or tastings, which can generate buzz and excitement around their products.
“Cross-promoting their products with other retailers or brands can also be a great way for independent retailers to increase the visibility of their meat-free offerings during National Vegetarian Week. This can be achieved by partnering with other businesses that share a similar target market or demographic and offering discounts or promotions on their products during the week.”
This is something Mark also agreed with. He added, “Maybe it’s just a case of highlighting the items that are in the shop already. Create social media posts to highlight some of the products you have in store and offer the opportunity for a supplier whose products are vegetarian to come in and do tastings.
“Create some recipes and post them once again on social media/websites, place signs in the store to say it is National Vegetarian Week and put special offers on some vegetarian products.”