This month’s feature article is a conversation with Michele Simon, Executive Director of the Plant Based Foods Association. Since its creation in 2016, Michele and the team at PBFA have developed a vast and diverse member base. Their work involves raising awareness of plant-based food options and they pioneer many initiatives to create a fair and balanced marketplace for plant-based foods to reach a more mainstream consumer audience. We at Plant Based World are thrilled to be partnered with Michele and PBFA to launch the first ever official trade show of the association and plant-based foods industry.
How did the Plant Based Foods Association come about? Why did you see a need for a trade association representing all plant-based brands?
Michele: I spent much of my earlier career researching and writing about how the meat and dairy industries manipulate policies to their advantage. Then I saw some of the policy challenges faced by the rapidly growing plant-based food industry and realized that these companies would be best-served by having a collective voice in the policy arena. Also, collective action is powerful in other ways, such as marketplace promotions.
What are the projects you are currently putting the bulk of your energy towards as an association?
There are many! On policy, a large portion of our time is focused on ensuring fairness in labeling for plant-based foods, at both the federal and state levels. We are also building out our retailer partnership program after a successful “Fall in Love with Plant Based” campaign with Lucky Supermarkets last fall. Also very exciting is our new “Certified Plant Based” program, which we are hoping will really elevate our industry.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing brand developers with the goal of replacing the traditional animal products that consumers are used to?
In the policy arena, labeling challenges. There is an ongoing lobbying effort by the dairy and meat industries to restrict free speech by unfairly targeting the plant-based food industry to not allow words like “milk” and “meat” to be used on plant-based food labels. We are working with our members and allies to fight these efforts at the federal and state levels to ensure the marketplace is not distorted by these unfair attacks.
PBFA recently teamed up with Lucky Supermarkets for an initiative to put a spotlight on the plant-based options on their shelves – are you happy with the results from that partnership?
Absolutely. Lucky Supermarkets was a great partner for this first-of-its-kind retail marketing partnership, and we saw a very positive response both from the Lucky-side of the partnership as well as from participating member brands. In 2019 and beyond, we will be expanding how we partner with other retail chains and food service partners.
What advice can you give to the mainstream food industry when it comes to better understanding the consumer shift in mindset towards more plant-based options?
Well, the numbers don’t lie. Consumers are very interested in plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy and this is a trend that cannot be ignored. Across all segments, food sales were up 2% over the past year, while plant-based food sales were up 20%, a ten-fold difference! The good news is most large food companies are participating in the movement in some way already, or soon will be. They don’t want to miss the boat!
What can people do to support PBFA and your members?
Get politically active! Most people don’t realize how important policy is to making plant-based foods more available and affordable. Also, with all the labeling challenges our members are facing at both the federal and state levels, we need all fans of plant-based foods to get to know your representatives and form relationships that may come in handy if and when a bill pops up in your state!
Big thanks to Michele Simon for taking the time to answer our questions and to the entire PBFA team for the work they are doing on behalf of the plant-based foods industry. We look forward to continuing to support your efforts!