This month marks two years since I became a vegan, thanks to the efforts of my Boulder, Colo., Whole Foods Market. The store made a plant-based diet seem achievable by highlighting products I never knew existed and teaching healthy ways of cooking. But Whole Foods isn't just serving a niche customer base—it created one within its own store.
Whole Foods hosts an annual 28-day challenge in conjunction with the Engine 2 Diet, which educates shoppers, builds community in store and encourages participants to buy items that support the challenge.
If you don’t have the bandwidth to host a month-long challenge effectively, you can still help new and experienced vegans feel welcome in your store. Here are eight tips to get started.
8 tips for serving vegan shoppers
1. Use dairy-free/vegan shelf talkers
Use shelf talkers to highlights dairy-free/vegan products in the dairy cases, deli, food aisles and personal care section. Help shoppers easily identify these options, even if they're not on the look-out for vegan items.
2. Take vegans on store tour
Host a store tour for your vegan shoppers to acquaint them with all the categories boasting vegan ingredients. Hand out store coupons and recipes to the group.
3. Invite vegans for a meet-up
Host a meet-up in your deli or cafÃ© for vegan shoppers to enjoy a meal together; designate an employee to help host the event and lead discussions.
4. Offer vegan book clubs
Start a vegan-themed book club. Meet monthly or quarterly, and try to invite the book’s author if possible for a reading and book signing.
5. Help vegans cook
Host cooking demos. Even if space is limited, carve some out in an aisle or even outside to show customers how simple it is to substitute dairy, meat and eggs in their favorite recipes.
6. Use #vegan on social media
7. Take the vegan challenge
Try a vegan challenge yourself. If customers see you making an effort with them, they’ll feel encouraged and supported.
8. Foster inclusiveness
Be respectful, but don’t worry about offending vegans by selling bacon. My non-vegan friends (most of my friends are not vegan) often try to tease me by waving bacon strips in front of me, as if I’ll suddenly turn rabid and fail to maintain what must be Olympian-like discipline in the face of such cold temptation. I’ve tasted bacon many times and I’m underwhelmed. The idea is to help vegans feel remembered in your store, without simply staging a product ghetto for them to find themselves.
For a deeper look at how to serve vegan, gluten-free or special diets shoppers, attend the Specialty Diets Forum at Natural Products Expo West on March 7, 2013.
How are you helping your vegan shoppers feel at home in your store?