On the 4th October we hosted our first Catch A Fire webinar on the future of Plant-based. Joined by an impressive panel of industry experts, we tucked into a debate on whether recent media reports were right – is plant-based really dead? (Spoiler alert: it isn’t).
With so many fantastic insights on how to succeed in this uber-competitive market, we thought it’d be rude not to round up the best takeaways from our panel. So, keep reading for top tips and glimmers of hope from those in the know:
- Allison Riley, Head of Marketing for VFC Foods & Meatless Farm
- Nicola Yates, UK Marketing Director for Live Kindly Collective
- Sonali Figueras, Founder & Editor in Chief at Green Queen Media
As well as our very own Strategists, Bella Ali-Khan and Rich Fishlock
Wait, who said plant-based was dead?
We’ve been seeing a number of news articles and reports on the so-called ‘death’ of plant-based foods. We discussed the reasons behind these stories in our previous article, Plant-based is Dead, which we’ll touch on again below. What’s interesting, however, is that a recent study found that 38% of the UK’s population is replacing meat-based meals with meat alternatives at least once a week (1).
Further research by Ernst & Young, in fact, projects substantial global growth in plant-based protein sales by 2035 (2). So rather than the death of plant-based foods, in fact “Long-term […] findings suggest the growth of the plant-based food sector will be significant” (2). So why is there such a disconnect?
As we mentioned in our last article, this is a nuanced issue with many variants contributing to the opinion that the plant-based category is in decline. Sonalie Figueiras of Green Queen Media put it poignantly when she said: “There are over 1000 plant-based brands across the space. Brushing them all with one narrative feels very reductive. There are also very different consumer trends and growth patterns across different markets.”
During the webinar discussions, our panellists agreed that all FMCG categories are being hit by inflation and the cost of living crisis. So while, admittedly, plant-based meat alternatives are being squeezed as consumers reconsider little luxuries, the same is true for many meat and dairy products.
“It’s multiple categories across the retail landscape, but obviously, that’s not an interesting story to tell. Things like fresh meat and pastry declines on all metrics. Anything that’s more of a luxury, people are passing on. You see this in cost of living crises over and over again.” – Alison Reilly, Head of Marketing, VFC Foods & Meatless Farm.
The point is that many categories are seeing declines, but media outlets are purely focusing on the plant-based category, perhaps due to its meteoric rise. And that’s where the importance of both short-term and long-term data analysis is key:
“It’s important to contrast short- and long-term trends. Short term, yes we (plant-based) and many other FMCG categories are impacted by inflation prices. But let’s not forget the long-term social trend is that people are eating less meat. Veganism, vegetarianism, and meat reducing (reducetarian) are growing as long-term, slow trends.” – Nicola Yates, UK Marketing Director, LIVEKINDLY Collective.
Top tips for succeeding in the market
So, it’s clear that plant-based is here to stay. But, this incredibly competitive market can be tooth and nail, so here are some top takeaways that emerged during our debate:
1. Don’t try to talk to everyone
Flexitarian consumers are a very appetising target, but they make up a huge audience of people, many with different reasons for flexing their diet. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to appeal to everyone, and in reality impressing no one.
Hinging product branding entirely on the fact that it’s plant-based also won’t cut the mustard. If a shopper visits the plant-based aisle they’re already at least interested in giving plant-based a go, so use your branding to convince them why they should give you a go.
Let your USPs sing out and use them to target like-minded customers with similar values. Does your product have great nutritional scores? Use those to talk to consumers cutting down on meat for health benefits. Because that same USP probably won’t land as well with customers cutting down on meat for environmental reasons.
Find your specific segment of people to help you create a strong brand position and build loyalty. As Allison Riley of VFC explained, “We could have gone with green packaging or beige packaging, but we went with red, bold packaging, rebellious tone of voice, and a very, very clear mission […] It probably alienates some people and that’s fine, but at least we stand for something.”
2. Stand for something
And that leads us on nicely to our next takeaway! We saw brands looking to capitalise on the early plant-based boom without doing the initial legwork into their unique proposition and product quality. The result? They didn’t survive, fuelling the stories that ‘plant-based is dead’.
The supermarket shelves are rife with competition, so your product must be distinct, tempting and high quality. But crucially, you’ve got to stand for something. In order to reach people, in their guts, you need a true purpose. Creating a strong narrative, and sharing the foundations of your brand and why you exist is vital for people to have an emotional connection with your brand. At the same time, if you don’t have a strong story, don’t try and sing about it – lean on the rational benefits of your products. Consumers are hyper-alert to greenwashing today – you have to walk the walk.
VFC has always been boldly upfront about their stance on animal cruelty. It’s a brand that’s not just plant-based, it’s anti-animal death. This is reflected in the brand’s comms, and yes it probably alienates some, but it’s attracted a loyal, activism-loving audience.
3. Remember the basics
And our final takeaway is a simple one – remember the basics. What do diners want on their plates? Tasty, healthy, feel-good meals. Products that rushed to market and didn’t properly address flavour, texture and quality expectations meant customers didn’t make a repeat purchase. In short, the experience wasn’t enjoyable and they were deterred from the category.
Now, new technology and untapped ingredient potential are elevating the flavour, texture and nutritional content of meat and dairy alternatives. We’re seeing innovation into mycelium, precision fermentation and seaweed, bringing with it improved performance in cooking and fewer ingredients with ‘cleaner labels’.
Consumers are zeroing in on ingredients more and more, too. Many are actively trying to avoid processed foods, so brands must communicate and celebrate the plant ingredients in their products, including where they sourced them.
Crucially, we need innovation in this arena. We need plant-based foods, and the world needs to consume less meat and dairy. Our food system is grappling with every possible problem, from land scarcity to water shortages, biodiversity and antibiotic usage. Plant-based offers a glimmer of hope.
So to wrap up, there is room on the shelf for new players, and there’s always room for innovation. If you’re willing to listen to the evolving needs of your consumer segment, riches await. There are exciting things ahead, and the future of plant-based is very bright.
If you want to join the debate, then we would love you to leave a comment below. Or, if you think we can help your brand grow, then get in touch by emailing email@example.com.