Plant-Based = Massive Mega-Trend in Grocery Stores During & Post Covid 

And, the man who declared this should know. He’s been immersed in the grocery business for almost half a century. Walter Robb is the former co-CEO of Whole Foods. He is now the Executive-in-Residence at S2G Ventures, whose mission is “to back the best entrepreneurs that are improving the overall health and sustainability of the food system.” He’s committing to making the future of food sustainable and centered around whole foods. The way Robb describes the consumer trend toward plant-based foods makes it seem like a tsunami about to envelop society. But, this is a good tsunami bringing better health, sustainability and kindness. 

Elysabeth Alfano interviewed him on the Plant-Based Business Hour to find out what the state of grocery stores is during Covid. 



How Grocery Stores Visitors Are Pivoting to Plant-Based During Covid

Robb worked in the grocery store world for forty years. He’s the exact person to talk to when you’re wondering about food trends and changing consumer behavior. He said that the move to plant-based foods is the biggest trend that he has ever seen. He believes that this pandemic has accelerated consumer demand for new products. People want “whole foods with a small w” as he calls it. With extra stress on our health, people are working to take control of their health by making more informed food choices. 

Grocery Store Shelves

During Covid, People Reverted To Brands They Knew

It isn’t surprising that when the whole world feels like it’s caving in, that we buy dependable brands that have been around for a while. It’s extra comforting to buy the foods that your parents used to buy. This is what’s happened as people buy groceries during this pandemic. 

The grocery store used to be a place to see people in your community, discover new food, stroll through the produce – now, it’s a place of heightened stress. You want to get in and out as quickly as possible. However, this means that consumers have found products through new systems including direct to consumer and other digital platforms.

“The store has outgrown the four walls” – Walter Robb

The Future is Plant-Based and Flexitarian

As a plant-based and whole foods consumer himself, Robb firmly believes in the plant-based lifestyle. However, he believes flexitarianism will drive what grocery stores carry. Of course, the vegan section will continue to grow. But, rather than the vegan section moving out front, the whole store will continue to include more plant-based options. Whether it be on an APP or in a survey, an increasing number of people are describing themselves as “mostly plant-based,” which means they are on the journey toward a truly plant-based lifestyle. This is how we progress toward the tipping point where plant-based meals become the default option, not the exception. 

Produce Section

Food 2.0

Robb believes a new wave of food is upon us, food 2.0. And it includes key components that food and food companies have sometimes lacked in the past – a focus on transparency and impact. 

With information available on-demand, the consumer is extremely knowledgeable. Brands have to adjust accordingly and allow their customers to see them as they really are. Gone are the days when you could slap “natural” on a product that was anything but and feel confident you’d get away with it. The trend toward transparency of ingredients, quality, and process is making companies more accountable to consumers. 


Are People Ready For Cultivated Meat? 

Walter Robb says yes! And he believes it will entirely depend on the company’s ability to communicate what exactly the product is and what it offers, compared to the traditional alternative. He says that just as Whole Foods took years to grow and people learned to care about the quality of their food, people will slowly get used to the idea of cultivated meat. 

If you’re interested in cultivated meat, check out Elysabeth Alfano’s interview with Aleph Farms’ CEO.


Walter Robb’s Suggestions For Young Entrepreneurs 

  • Need to have a disruptive product
  • Function through all channels including digital and direct to consumer
  • Communicate clearly with customers 
  • Make sure you understand your purpose and values and keep that as your north star

Major Changes in the Grocery World – Other Than Plant-Based 

  • Curbside pickup and delivery
  • Appreciation for other whole foods not yet given the spotlight (like lentils which are a favorite of his)
  • More proactive and honest communication
  • Fewer stores but more digital options
  • Personalization engines
  • Rediscover taste and flavor

At the end of his conversation with Elysabeth Alfano, Robb expressed his commitment to joy – helping others find it and striving for it himself. A perfect little reminder during these tough times. 


How are you getting your groceries nowadays? Share your thoughts with us.


Elysabeth Alfano is the host of The Awesome Vegans Influencer Series and the Plantbased Business Hour, airing every Tuesday and Thursday at 1p PT on Jane Unchained News.  She is also the Founder of Plant Powered Consulting, helping vegan brands increase brand awareness and sales.  Follow her at @ElysabethAlfano on socials and find more information here.