The plant-based protein industry is starting to look a bit like the gold rush.
One such startup, Eat JUST, Inc. (JUST), sells a plant-based egg alternative that’s designed to cook, taste, and look like chicken eggs.
Like everyone else, the company is steering through somewhat uncharted territory.
What’s driving the mainstream adoption of plant-based proteins? Who are these consumers, and why do they buy JUST Egg? What’s the most effective menuing and shelf placement? How should JUST Egg be priced in the market, and what is the elasticity at different price points?
Daniel Scharff is the head of insights and analytics at JUST, and it’s his job to answer all these questions—and more.
In order to get end-to-end insights on practically everything from market segmentation to packaging designs, Scharff needs to run a lot of surveys, get the data back fast, and do it all without breaking the bank. SurveyMonkey Audience is the insights engine that powers it all.
Pricing a product when you’re on a budget
When Scharff first set out to price JUST’s product, he did what many insights professionals would do: Hire a traditional third-party research firm to help him run a study that would inform a pricing recommendation for JUST’s product, but Scharff found the cost and the slow turnaround time to be limiting.
Scharff has worked in market research and insights for nearly a decade and can design a pricing study as well as any research firm. What he needed was direct access to a panel of high-quality consumers so he could do his own research, on his own timeline—for much less.
So he began using SurveyMonkey Audience to adopt an agile market research framework where he collected vital insights on his own.
The study cost more than $40k through a third party, vs. $1k doing it myself with SurveyMonkey Audience,” he said. “The saved money and time means I can quickly run surveys on other vital topics.”
That was the first and last time Scharff paid an agency for research at JUST. Since then he’s been using SurveyMonkey Audience as his sole research engine because it allows him to send dozens of surveys to a variety of segmented audiences and get back high-quality results fast.
“I’ve run 40 surveys in the past year, year and a half. I don’t even want to think about what that would cost if I paid someone else to do them.”
Daniel Scharff, head of insights and analytics, JUST
Expanding beyond the “vegan foods” market
A big part of Scharff’s job is to tell his company what its consumers look like and how to reach more of them. That means when JUST is considering launching a new product, he needs to quantify and communicate demand.
One way he does this is through purchase intent studies on SurveyMonkey Audience. He starts by showing a picture of his product and asks consumers whether they’d be interested in buying it. Then he asks questions about things like their dietary habits and if they plan to adopt a plant-based diet.
The research showed that JUST’s customer base isn’t primarily composed of vegans, but rather meat eaters who are trying to gradually shift to a more plant-based diet for health reasons.
“The plant-based trend is actually really about health,” Scharff said. “It seems kind of intuitive, but it might be hard to verbalize if you just don't have the data in front of you.”
Furthermore, Scharff found that their core customer segment is the one that currently eats the fewest eggs, which means JUST Egg doesn’t just appeal to target current egg consumers, it expands the entire category.
This meant JUST could target a much broader market of consumers, which has had cascading effects on how the company brings its product to market, builds its customer profiles, and does market segmentation—all of which he also does with the help of SurveyMonkey Audience.
Using storytelling with data to drum up business
The data Scharff gathers can also be useful to convince potential distribution partners to buy JUST’s product. For example, take how Scharff found out about how people shop for JUST’s product.
He used SurveyMonkey to send a survey to customers in JUST’s email list to learn about their experience with the product, how much they like the taste and texture, how often they’ve made repeat purchases, how they are using the product at home, and more. He uncovered useful data showing that people discover JUST’s product more often online (social media and news outlets) rather than on the shelf or on the menu.
All of the data he collects from surveys like this, while not as scientific as data he gathers from a panel of respondents, help JUST build a case for why and how stores should stock their product. To date, JUST has gotten national distribution at both Kroger and Walmart.
Another good example of this is how Scharff creates data on JUST’s product to help the company showcase the demand for the product to partners in the food services industry.
Scharff creates two versions of a survey—one that shows a menu that includes JUST product and another that doesn’t. Scharff asks things like which version they’d prefer, what they’d buy, and how much they’d spend.
He uses all this data to help JUST communicate demand for plant-based egg to foodservice partners.
“I can say, ‘Hey, I have surveyed X number of consumers, 27% of them are going to choose our egg over a traditional egg, and they're the ones who actually eat out the most and they're going to go to your restaurant more often because you have it. Their check size is going to go up because I have all the data just to see what the average order would be.’”
Critically, he also asks respondents where they like to go out to eat in these surveys to help him personalize the data.
“That way I can do a customized version of this slide only for a specific restaurant's customers and then when I show them that their customers want JUST egg because I've surveyed 500 of their consumers and then it's incredibly meaningful to them at that point because all of the data is about them.”
Recently, bakery and restaurant chain Le Pain Quotidien announced they’d replace one of their core conventional egg options with JUST.
“It’s one of the first times, as far as I know, that a major chain has straight up replaced an animal protein option with a plant-based one, so we’re pretty pumped about that."
Daniel Scharff, head of insights and analytics, JUST
Like in any fast-growing industry, things change every day in the plant-based protein market. And as more and more companies, small and large, scramble to break into the market, companies like JUST have a big advantage.
With an agile market research framework and direct access to a panel of high-quality respondents, Scharff can run a survey on pretty much any issue that comes JUST’s way. That helps decision makers at JUST to quickly make good decisions based on data, rather than on their gut.
To Scharff, that freedom is incredibly empowering.
“I saw a bus ad for SurveyMonkey recently and it said, ‘Be the hero your company needs,’” Scharff said. "That's exactly how I feel when I get data from Audience surveys. There's just no way we could know some of this stuff and I feel like a hero because I know how to use it.”