Plant-based lifestyles have hit their stride – is your pharmacy on board?

August 16, 2018By Focus on the Pharmacy Front End Blog, Independent Pharmacy, Step into Natural

by Jen Johnston, CHHC, senior marketing services account manager, for the Step into Natural blog series

Hearing a lot about the vegan lifestyle lately? Veganism has been gaining popularity since the term was first coined in 1944, particularly accelerating in the 2010s. Veganism is the quintessential lifestyle diet because it prohibits the use of any animal product not only in food and beverage but also in clothes, household goods, personal care items, medicine, and OTCs, supplements, affecting many parts of a person’s lifestyle. So leather, pearls, and wool are out, as are products made with honey, gelatin, or whey. Being vegan affects most parts of a person’s life.

Have you seen vegan shoppers in your pharmacy? You might not recognize them – the vegan movement used to be associated with the punk subculture or stereotypical “hippies.” Today those associations have largely dissolved. But we do know that they tend to be younger (57% are under age 38), skew somewhat female, are higher educated, and are more diverse, with above-average incomes.Cutting vegetables in kitchen
People become vegan or vegetarian for a number of reasons including perceived health benefits, environmental concerns, and ethical issues. The Free From Forum Market Monitor found the following:

  • 60% believe it is better for their health
  • 56% are motivated due to animal welfare concerns
  • 50% seek to improve a health condition or illness
  • 49% are motivated by environmental concerns
  • 45% think it will help them manage their weight

When asked to choose their #1 motivation, overall healthfulness and animal welfare concerns were most commonly cited. And while being vegan doesn’t inherently mean being a natural shopper, they do tend to be more focused on the quality and ethics of their products, choosing organic, sustainable, cruelty-free, non-GMO, and antibiotic-free options.

Exactly how many vegans are there? According to Michele DeKinder-Smith of Linkage Research, estimates show that in 2009, approximately 0.5% of the U.S. was vegan. However, research cited in a 2015 Food Navigator-USA story indicated 6% of the U.S. population now identifies as vegan.  Clearly there is a growth trend. But it actually isn’t the strictly vegan consumer that is driving product sales.

“The market for plant-based and vegan foods is much larger than the vegan and vegetarian movement,” said DeKinder-Smith. “As consumers seek to eat more real, whole foods, increasing numbers of shoppers are placing vegan and vegetarian options in their shopping basket.”  Thirty-six percent of U.S. consumers prefer milk alternatives or use meat alternatives, and up to 41% of people ate less meat vs the previous year. A Free From Forum Market Monitor study showed that 1 in 7 households has purchased products labeled as vegan.
Lately, there has been a movement in the industry to move away from the term “vegan diet” which can be associated with animal welfare concerns to the more inclusive “plant-based diet” which focuses more on the perceived health benefits.

And wow, is the demand for plant-based foods ever soaring. Retail Leader reported that plant-based food sales rose 20% year-over-year, topping $3.3 billion dollars, according to Nielsen and the Plant Based Foods Association. The plant-based milk category is up 9%, compared to 3% the previous year, and comprises about half the total dollar volume, at $1.6 billion. Plant-based meats grew 24%, cheeses 43% and yogurts 55%.

Documentary movies such as PlantPure Nation and Forks over Knives advocate for plant-based diets as a way to control or reverse degenerative diseases and have appeared on popular streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix. Authors like John Robbins (Diet for a New America and The Food Revolution), John McDougall, MD (The Healthiest Diet on the Planet), and T. Colin Campbell (The China Study) reach people through their documentation of the science behind the movement. And everywhere you look, celebrities are going vegan.

But the plant-based trend isn’t just good for food brands such as PlantPure, Boca Burger, and Daiya. Beverage innovator, REBBL, has a line of “plant-forward” drinks. In fact, the name is an acronym which stands for roots, extracts, berries, bark, and leaves.  Protein powder brand, VEGA, encourages people to “discover the full potential of plant-based nutrition.”

I know when I visited Natural Products Expo West, the leading retail buying show for natural products, in 2017, I almost couldn’t turn around without seeing a plant-based or vegan claim.

Plant-based supplements made from fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, spices, bark, flowers, leaves, and other botanical ingredients are gaining in popularity. And even personal care is getting in on the action, with celebrity hairstylist, David Babaii, recently unveiling a plant-based hair care line, N:p Beautiful.

Did you know vegans shop independent pharmacy? A national study from the Free From Forum Market Monitor, a service of Linkage Research, showed that vegans and vegetarians are more than twice as likely as non-vegans and non-vegetarians to shop at independent pharmacy. Perhaps because they are independent minded? This also may reflect millennial shopping habits overall as this generation appreciates higher service and wants to support their local communities.

Putting products that have the certifications (Certified Vegan, Vegan Natural Food Certifiers, and VegeCert) on an endcap or special shelf can be helpful for your vegan shoppers. Is your pharmacy in one of the top-ten vegan-friendly cities according to PETA? You might want to consider more than an endcap display. Perhaps some special signage and activities are in order. Just make sure it isn’t a barbecue, unless you’ve got a good supply of Tofurky sausages!