photo of plant-based burgers

Plant-Based Attributes: A Guide to the Evolving Definitions in Today’s Plant-Based Market

Plant-Based Attributes are Evolving

The growing popularity of plant-based options has helped push sales of plant-based items up year over year, with this year’s pandemic-induced stock-up accelerating that growth. While meatless, vegetarian, and vegan options have been around for years, they are only part of today’s plant-based market. The scope of today’s plant-based options is wider reaching than any we’ve seen in the past. 

We’ve talked about who today’s plant-based shoppers are and why the attribute is growing so quickly. Now let’s look at what makes today’s plant-based landscape different from its previous iterations and learn how attributes can help you unlock opportunity. 

The Buying Power of the Flexitarian Shopper

The vegan diet helped establish the popularity of meat-free products and was the starting point for many of today’s brands by focusing primarily on eliminating animal-based products from your kitchen. The growing plant-based movement focuses more on the health benefits that come from plant-based proteins, fiber, and nutrients.

Keep in mind, there is plenty of overlap between both—especially when talking about sustainability and the health benefits of reducing animal products. In fact, plant-based serves as a larger term that includes a variety of diets, including vegan and the increasingly popular flexitarian. Flexitarians want to minimize their consumption of meat or dairy but aren’t committed to a vegetarian or vegan diet. According to the Food Industry Association, “Among Gen Z, 13% eat a flexitarian diet versus just 6% of Older Boomers. Millennials and Gen X average 10% each for eating flexitarian diets.” 

Headshot of VP of Fresh Foods at FMI The Food Industry Association

“Among Gen Z, 13% eat a flexitarian diet versus just 6% of Older Boomers. Millennials and Gen X average 10% each for eating flexitarian diets...Sustainability and health concerns are helping to drive the flexitarian trend and increase plant-based protein options have more people experimenting with these new food options.” 

- Rick Stein, Vice President, Fresh, Industry Relations, FMI

These shoppers might aim to have a meat-free day or meal each week—or they could mostly enjoy a plant-based diet—while still enjoying a meat-based meal, too. Their goal is to increase their plant-based consumption in a way that suits their lifestyle. That’s why some of these shoppers might not be heading to the vegetarian shelves at the store—and why some traditional brands have branched out into plant-based products or begun to position their existing animal-free products differently, going head to head with natural and plant-based brands.

Flexitarian shoppers who don’t think of themselves as living a strictly meatless lifestyle might be attracted to these familiar conventional brands. They might also see a plant-based positioned product like lentil soup and realize that this item suits their flexitarian diet even though it’s not necessarily an animal alternative.  For brands and retailers, the flexitarian mentality provides some challenges and even more opportunities to think creatively and reach a larger audience. 

What is Attracting Plant-Based Buyers?

Plant-based shoppers are certainly guiding the industry as they grow in number, but they’re also gravitating toward a growing selection of products that appeal to them. Shoppers are thinking bigger than just meal alternatives; they’re also focused on dairy options and everyday cooking ingredients.  

  • Nutritional parity: Brands have focused on making the nutritional content of their plant-based products comparable to animal-based products, particularly focusing on protein. 
  • Lower sugar: Plant-based products often rely on low-calorie sweeteners (such as stevia), or whole fruits (like monk fruit) rather than artificial ingredients. 
  • Clean label options: Plant-based has a reputation for processed ingredients due to many early brands focusing on providing meatless options, but many brands are now innovating to keep their labels clean. 
  • Shelf staples: Plants are appearing on the ingredients list of items from jerky to shelf-stable staples like pasta to pancake mixes. 
  • Seafood: Concerns about ocean health, sea life, and climate change have pushed more shoppers to select seafood alternatives. For example, SPINS data shows that plant-based tuna alternatives are among the top growers for shelf-stable meat alternatives, growing 178% vs. the overall subcategory’s 44% growth. 
graphic showing the growth in plant-based tuna alternatives

How SPINS Attributes Help You Succeed in Plant-Based

SPINS has been following plant-based since before “plant-based” was the preferred term; we understand how the attribute has evolved and where it’s headed. In order to empower brands and retailers to dig into this growing market, SPINS Product Intelligence provides dedicated, exclusive plant-based categories and subcategories.

Our 4 exclusive plant-based categories and 41 exclusive plant-based subcategories provide easy access to the core segments of the plant-based market. Our proprietary and specialized hierarchy is built around the Natural Products Industry and highlights plant-based products as unique subcategories, separate from animal-based subcategories. 

Plant-Based Attribute Nuances: The Difference Between "Plant-Based Diet" and "Plant-Based Positioned"

In addition, SPINS offers 2 distinct attributes that get to the nuance of the plant-based market and give you a unique view: Plant-based Diet and Plant-Based Positioned:

Plant-Based Diet identifies all products suitable for a Plant-Based diet as determined by ingredient analysis. Products are free of animal ingredients including meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy, and their derivatives. This attribute is Ideal for shopper applications and was specifically designed to identify products that contain no animal-based ingredients across the entire store. Kombucha, for example, fits here because you might not even think of it as being plant-based but it fits the requirements

Plant-Based Positioned identifies products positioned as clear alternatives to common animal-derived products such as cheese, meat, poultry, and milk. This attribute is Ideal for identifying products overtly positioned as alternatives, such as a veggie burger or oat creamer.

In both cases, these attributes make it easier for you to identify where shoppers are spending their money and where plant-based is heading. SPINS Product Intelligence lets you gather those valuable insights so you can turn them into a strategy for growth.


If you’re a plant-based brand or are a brand interested in learning if creating a plant-based option is best for you, you can learn more here or contact us to discuss how our proprietary attribute data combined with insights and strategic analysis from our consulting team can help you make that determination 

As a SPINS exclusive retailer, you have access to all of the SPINS attributes including the plant-based diet and positioned attributes that you can use to deliver more customized shopper experiences through your digital and instore channels.  If you are not yet a SPINS exclusive retailer, you can gain more Information here or contact us today at: [email protected] 


Attribute Data Helps a Kombucha Company Grow by 65%

When an emerging kombucha brand wanted to expand their footprint, they turned to SPINS store level data and brand Scorecard to understand their growth opportunities. They quickly realized what was working and what wasn’t—and soon they began to make changes that saw huge results.