RL Pro Exclusive Q&A: PlantX Life Founder Sean Dollinger

RL Pro goes vegan with the plant-based products retailer to discuss its brick-and-mortar plans (including a food hall) and how it's putting a fun twist on plant-based eating.
Elizabeth Christenson
Editor, Retail Leader
Elizabeth Christenson profile picture

This summer, plant-based product retailer PlantX Life Inc. opened what it says is the biggest vegan grocery store in the world — XMarket Uptown in Chicago. As its second U.S. location and sixth store globally, XMarket aims to grow a plant-based community by making the vegan lifestyle more accessible and inviting with a highly curated selection of the top vegan products. Retail Leader Pro chatted with PlantX Life Founder Sean Dollinger about how its brick-and-mortar experience plays into introducing consumers to a new food experience.

Retail Leader Pro (RL Pro): PlantX Life, as a brand, is a one-stop shop for plant-based products. How did you use your digital platform to build a community of like-minded consumers while educating them as well?

Sean Dollinger
PlantX Life Founder Sean Dollinger

Sean Dollinger: We started by making everyone feel welcomed. What we are educating people on is not just vegan or plant-based, but food in general, and why does it need to be called out? We believe, if people feel comfortable, they will take the approach of exploring more openly.

RL Pro:  With shopper behavior continuing to shift rapidly, how is PlantX Life changing to meet consumers on their omnichannel shopper journey?

Dollinger: This is where we felt a brick-and-mortar experience plays so much into the space. Just like how Tesla introduced people to electric cars and Apple to a new operating system, PlantX is introducing people to a new experience in food. Food is the No. 1 pastime for 99% of the world. Everyone needs food to live, and people love the experience. We are making it fun to explore and find the latest and greatest.

RL Pro:  This year, PlantX Life opened XMarket Uptown. How did this new location come about? What challenges emerged with cultivating such a large selection of vegan products? As a global retailer, why was Chicago a good market to open this flagship store?

Dollinger: We received a call one day from John and Maria Graves. They shared their story on why they created the store, which was very much in alignment with PlantX. Unfortunately, COVID-19 caused problems for them financially, and PlantX decided to help them out and acquire it, giving PlantX the opportunity to enter one of the most populated cities in the country.

We have realized for our stores to take off they need to be fun, and create a community — this is why we are condensing the store and turning the other part of it into the largest vegan food hall in the world. We believe with 300-plus seats and a full-service bar it will bring in customers, who might have never explored vegan/plant-based and experience how incredible it is!

RL Pro:  What special services and departments do your XMarket stores offer?

Dollinger: In the Chicago store, we are going to be partnering with Very Good Butchers to create a full meat section and a dairy partner. The idea is to keep things familiar for guests, but put a fun twist on things.

RL Pro:  What future expansion plans do you have for your XMarket retail concept and Plant XLife as a brand? How do you expect the plant-based market to grow? 

Dollinger: We are growing every day. From our social media to in-store sales to our online experience. Every day we are adding new products to our stores and online experience, creating the largest one-stop shop of everything vegan.

RL Pro Rapid Round:

For this last segment, we asked Dollinger to fill in the blank for these rapid-fire questions below…

The future of retail is: Community, an experience and FUN!

The best career advice you ever received: It is not how much you make in life — It is all about what you save.

Piece of media (podcast, book, movie, etc.) that’s inspired you recently: King Richard . I grew up playing sports, and I was able to connect with this movie.