Product range

22 September 2022

“Twenty percent of our customers would like to see a vegan range at the self-service counter”

REWE introduces plant-based alternatives to its self-service counter. In particular, the new range targets meat-eaters. Alexander Rußler, Vegan and Vegetarian Strategy Project Manager, explains why.
Reading time: 7 min.

Many customers like to shop at the supermarket self-service counter. However, vegan alternatives have not featured heavily – until now. In our interview with Alexander Rußler, Vegan and Vegetarian Strategy Project Manager, we discuss why REWE is now extending its range at selected stores, who the new range targets, and what the future developments in this segment might be.

Mr Rußler, many REWE stores already stock a wide range of vegan and vegetarian foods. What prompted the introduction of a vegan self-service counter?

Alexander Rußler: It is true that we have already expanded our vegan and vegetarian self-service ranges in recent months – with the inclusion of dairy-free milks, and meat, sausage, cheese, and fish alternatives, as well as convenience options. We have also optimised our dry goods and frozen food ranges. But as a full-range provider, the self-service counter also has an important role, too. It was therefore logical for us to add the finishing touch to our specialist vegan range by offering vegan alternatives at the self-service counter. We also conducted customer surveys to determine what customers wanted to see at our self-service counters. Twenty percent of respondents said they would like the opportunity to buy plant-based deli alternatives.

Alexander Rußler

is Vegan and Vegetarian Strategy Project Manager at the REWE Group.

Who is the range primarily aimed at? People who also buy meat or those who are already following vegan or vegetarian lifestyles?

Alexander Rußler: We considered this question for a long time. Data from the vegan self-service department shows that these products are predominantly purchased by vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians. But with the trend towards veganism showing no signs of abating, we also have observed that increasing numbers of other customers are open to buying vegan and vegetarian alternatives. Because these omnivores and flexitarians already shop at the self-service counter, we are primarily targeting this large group. That’s why the products are placed in a central location on the counter, next to cheese or speciality items, for instance. We would also be happy if this new range enables us to attract vegans and vegetarians to the counter.

Fresh vegan products at the self-service counter will further increase the enthusiasm for a vegan lifestyle.

Alexander Rußler, Vegan and Vegetarian Strategy Project Manager, explains why the vegan counter in REWE stores is an important step towards increasing the sustainability of food.

In selected stores, customers can find a wide selection of vegan products at the self-service counter.

Do you think that vegans will now visit the self-service counter, even though it was not previously a relevant part of their shopping experience?

Alexander Rußler: It certainly won’t be easy to attract our vegan customers to the self-service counter. Particularly as meat-based products continue to dominate the area. But our initial approach will be to gain further insights into this over a longer period of time through observations in the stores involved in the trial. Moreover, there is a good argument for making purchases from the counter, as customers can use reusable containers and there is less waste packaging. They can also ask for advice about the products and buy the exact quantities that they need.

Which product ranges are you offering?

Alexander Rußler: We are launching an initial range of 34 items. All the products have received the ProVeg V-Label and are completely vegan. The range includes plant-based alternatives to meat, sausage, cheese, and fish. It includes products such as vegan salami and liver pâté, vegan kebabs and steak, various dairy-free cheeses, and vegan deli salads. This allows us to replicate our conventional self-service counter using vegan alternatives, albeit on a much smaller scale.

What challenges did you face when implementing this project?

Alexander Rußler: We were one of the first movers to introduce a vegan deli range in the German food retail sector . There was therefore very little competition monitoring or experience for us to fall back on. The first challenge was choosing the right items for the counter. In addition, as the industry had previously been manufacturing for the self-service segment, the products we had chosen were not already available as self-service products. And the final hurdle was completing the ProVeg certification process. But, because this is an entirely new product category, we faced challenges due to other sales-related issues, such as preventing contamination from animal products in vegan products.

How do you ensure that the vegan range is kept entirely separate from conventional deli products?

Alexander Rußler: It works by using glass partitions on the deli counter to separate the vegan items from the adjacent products. Vegan items are also placed on their own mint-green containers, and additional boards and cutlery are used. And of course, the foods are also stored separately. Providing special training to our employees working on the vegan counter in how to handle the products correctly was another crucial aspect.

What criteria were used for selecting the participating stores?

Alexander Rußler: We conducted an initial evaluation of the ‘vegan-affinity’ of all the stores based on their sales of the self-service products. The regions then chose their trial stores themselves. We were particularly pleased that many retailers approached either us or their region proactively after they’d heard about the trial as they wished to take part.

What does the trial mean for the deli-counter employees?

Alexander Rußler: At the start, customers need a lot of advice about the product range and will only become aware of the products through the recommendations of our sales staff. Training sessions were arranged for division managers and employees to ensure that the launch was as effective as possible and that expert advice could be given. During their training, participants also taste-tested all 34 items, with many of them impressed by the flavours.

What is your assessment of the growth of meat and sausage alternatives in the food retail sector? To what extent do you think there is still untapped potential?

Alexander Rußler: A lot has happened in this sector over the last few months and years. Well-known manufacturers as well as a diverse range of start-ups are working on new products and further developing existing products. There are probably still some big surprises in store in the meat-free alternatives sector. There is certainly still potential to make the products as tasty as possible, although that will of course always depend on the individual customer’s palate.

What happens after the trial period?

Alexander Rußler: During the trial until the end of the year, we are likely to gain a lot of new and unforeseen insights – decisions about next steps will be taken once we have evaluated all the results.