Revolutionizing the Shelf-stable
100 Years and Counting
The Vegetarian Foods Company (VFC) engaged Retail Voodoo after being purchased by private equity and given a growth mandate that required keeping their aging, loyal consumers happy. VFC had been making shelf-stable meat alternatives long before most people were thinking about plant-based foods.
Despite having invented the meat analog category and successfully tying it to a healthy lifestyle for previous generations, VFC had no brand awareness except to consumers who saw it in their grandparent’s pantry when they were a child.
The challenge was a combination of brand positioning, distribution, awareness, and their legacy ingredient deck. All resulting in a brand that nobody under the age of seventy purchased, except once a year to honor family traditions.
As one of the longest standing producers of shelf-stable vegetarian meat analogs in the United States, VFC was doing the right thing before most of the brands in the category even existed. When the world began to wake up to the benefits of a plant-based diet, the new investors determined that it was time for VFC to capture new market share. Faced with savvy, well-funded competitors and a dwindling audience of outspoken loyalists, VFC found themselves stuck between keeping their aging loyalists happy (despite smaller returns) and developing new products that speak to today’s label reading consumer and leverages their manufacturing expertise.
Old folks didn’t want them to change, but modern consumers wouldn’t give them a second look.
VFC approached Retail Voodoo to help them create a product portfolio that would create new audiences while keeping the old folks happy. They owned the factory, a solid manufacturing process and a legacy of outspoken loyalists with a decreasing distribution model. VFC wanted to leverage the fast-growing plant-based foods category that had captured consumer attention and believed that new products were part of the equation to increase relevance and capture market share.
The Evolution of a Good, Better, Best Line Up
To help VFC get into the retail channels where vegetarians and flexitarians shop for shelf-stable options, we studied vegetarian, vegan, and flexitarian lifestyles. We also used quantitative data including, how they shop, where they dine, and what other brands they allow into their homes – looking for points of parity and points of difference.
Our deep dive into these health-conscious consumers and the evolution of their eating preferences revealed four key insights:
- Plant-based eating is no longer a fringe diet reserved for the regimented vegetarian and vegan lifestyles.
- Lifestyle changes and cultural norms had changed since the brand had its heyday. In today’s world, people are either cooking from scratch or want a complete easy solution.
- The meatless alternative category was maturing in frozen but remains wide open in shelf-stable and fresh.
- Current products created by the vegetarian company would never be considered by today’s better-for-you shopper.
These insights affirmed that reformulation the vegetarian company’s products to match today’s ingredient preferences would be our minimum viability if we wanted any chance at achieving brand relevance.
Working with VFC and our food science partners, we established a three-tiered innovation platform:
- Leave the traditional offering alone, but redesign the labels to increase appetite appeal.
- Establish a clean ingredient, natural version. Approve all potential ingredients through a panel of label-reading, vegetarian and flexitarian gate-keeper moms.
- Create a new set of ready-to-eat (RTE) meals that provide complete nutrition via clean ingredients and bold flavors from around the world that would pique the interest of our millennial flexitarian audience-to-be.
Together we identified innovation platforms, determining what the ideal mouth-feel and flavor profiles should be to keep us focused on the themes of quick comfort and culinary convenience.
In order to jumpstart ideation and guide the growth roadmap, Retail Voodoo wireframed a new retail channel strategy including e-commerce for the company and developed new product concepts against the new, better-for-you platforms.
The innovation workshops took place in Chicago and Seattle over 4 weeks. In attendance were key VFC executive leaders, operations, sales, marketing, food science and culinary partners, and our strategy team from Retail Voodoo.
Using addressable market data, trends forecasting and the disciplines of Blue Ocean Strategy, we aligned upon fourteen products to move into development.
Jaw-dropping Growth Achieved in First Three Years
By adopting an outside-in approach, Retail Voodoo helped VFC understand what their existing and future consumers wanted from a shelf-stable meatless alternative meal. This innovative thinking paved the way for new growth and increased brand relevance. Among the many outcomes, we developed three new product concepts under an updated take on their hundred-year-old brand name.
After getting traction with retailers including Sprouts, Walmart and Target, as well as international expansion including Western Europe and Australia, VFC has enjoyed triple-digit year-over-year growth its first two years. And VFC anticipates posting 5x growth by the end of year three.