How marketeers are pushing plant-based eating lifestyles to a peak

As a vegetarian since the 1980s, I became used to wearing the ‘fussy eater’ label. But I find that these days being vegetarian is quite ordinary – boring almost. The plain truth is that in 2018, 'vegan eating' took the show, with a re-shaped proposition centred on plant-based foods and proteins.

Growing consumer mindfulness of how our food choices affect our personal well-being and the health of the planet, has led to unprecedented growth in the last few years of the number of people reducing their meat consumption, and more people reducing consumption of dairy products.

The UK Vegetarian Society say 2,000 people are giving up meat and ‘going veggie’ in Britain every week. They estimate over 3 million of the UK population are vegetarians. The Vegan Society cites 600,000 vegans in Great Britain in 2018, with huge growth coming in recent years - and Veganuary is boosting growth trends year on year. A survey by Waitrose in 2018, found that a further 21% of UK consumers claim to be Flexitarian.

Marketeers and retailers are playing a huge role in empowering people to adopt plant-based eating lifestyles, and in creating the desire at an emotional level to be a part of the new food movement through a rack of positive triggers. This is what is so clever about the food innovation trend – it appeals to different people in different ways. It's what will give the growth trend strength and stability in the future.

You only have to look at the new launches of plant-based food in major retailers such as Waitrose and M&S to understand the breadth of the opportunity. M&S launched a whole range under their new Plant Kitchen brand this month. The Plant Kitchen range includes 60 brand new meals, snack foods and ingredients such as grain packs, tofu and soy protein products. I’ve tried some of the products and they do taste really good. But from a marketing point of view there are a number of aspects of this new brand range which particularly impress me.

Firstly, it talks about plant-based proteins, rather than anything ‘vegan’. This takes the range completely away from the quagmire of sandal-wearing, hippy stereo-types which tends to clog the memories of anyone over 40 years old – thus engaging older as well as younger consumers. It is clearly a range designed for contemporary food consumers of all ages.

On top of that, the range is really broad – it stretches from what I would consider to be clearly veggie products to those which seem to be meat substitutes – they look like meat, they cook like meat, and some say they could even be meat. Possibly these products are not so appealing for those who dislike the visual cues and textures of meat, but probably these are more appealing to Flexitarians who are consciously trying to reduce their meat consumption, or don’t know how to prepare a meal without it.

The brand credentials have strength in depth. Plant Kitchen has eco-appeal - all the ready meals are packaged using recycled trays, foil trays and cardboard boxes, instead of plastic packaging.

What blows my mind, however, and tells me this range is here to stay and will be very successful indeed, is the abundance of products on the shelf, predominantly displayed together. At the very least, this sends out a message that ‘this is the new norm’, and so will engage many shoppers purely because of their Fear of Missing Out. 

Beyond this, however, the M&S Plant Kitchen brand will be successful because it fills a need. It offers real choice in ready prepared meals and foods for vegans. Choice is the key thing that has been missing for so many years for vegans when grocery shopping, eating out, getting take-aways or eating on the hoof. Plant Kitchen offers ready meals, sandwiches, and salad boxes which are meat and dairy free in abundance - in a way that is easy to recognise and shop in-store. 

M&S Plant Kitchen seems to offer everyone something to engage them in the plant-based proposition. It’s an impressive real life illustration of how to tap into a range of different mind-sets and motivations, through a single cohesive brand proposition.

Caroline Thompson runs the qualitative research consultancy, Caroline Thompson Associates, specialising in Consumer, Retail and Travel sectors and is Director of Vegan to Dinner. Vegan to Dinner was set up by Caroline and business partner Catherine Horner to provide meal solutions for mixed-diet families and hosts catering for mixed eating tables; and to create a forum for listening to, and engaging with, consumers interested in Flexitarian and plant-based eating lifestyles. @vegan_to_dinner on Instagram @VeganToDinner on Facebook

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