Updated: Oct 25, 2019
No Bull Burger, Oatly, Wicked Kitchen, the Meatless Farm …just some of the big brand challengers we have seen become dominant on our grocery shelves in 2018/9. They tell the story of our time – the Plant-based Retail Revolution is opening doors for independent producers and brands; changing the face of the Food-to-Go retail market-place (e.g. the Pret purchase of EAT to develop Plant-based outlets); and galvanising traditional non-vegan manufacturers to invest in new brand launches and acquisitions (e.g. Kerry Group launching Naked Glory this autumn). Everyone is looking for a share of the vegan pie.
It’s a diverse and complex consumer audience. A recent study shared some new insight that split Plant-based Consumers into 5 types – the Heathy Hard Cores, the Value Hunters, the Flavour Craver, the Trendy Trialist, and the Eco Warriors (Ref: Food Navigator.com). Marketeers are trying to make sense of the plant-based audience with new behavioural and attitudinal descriptors that try to capture the multi-faceted dimensions of the market.
This is useful, because it helps articulate in a common language the diversity of the consumer audience. As marketeers, we recognise that not all plant-based consumers are eco-warriors and vegan evangelists. There are all sorts of reasons why people get drawn into the plant-based market, but it’s not a static situation, and even across the UK there are differences in how attitudes are forming regionally (e.g. north vs south). Consumers themselves are continually evolving and maturing in terms of their needs and expectations.
What we have noticed, as we undertake research in this market, and engage with consumers, is that they are particularly brand savvy, demanding and discerning.
Added to this, our experience is that many consumers in this market bring a healthy dash of cynicism to their choices. Some may even see the choice as binary – I’ll buy it if it’s good (both in terms of product experience and sustainability ethics) and affordable, or I will do without. Plus, this audience tends to have strong values that underpin their lifestyle choices, which means that brands need to deliver a strong product proposition, but consumers also expect a brand to resonate with them emotionally - getting the tone and language of the brand communication right is absolutely key.
Consumers are prepared to do without if they can’t relate to the brand and its values. The strength of social media and plant-based community networks in this area mean these values are quick to be shared and judged.
In the last year or two the market has not only grown hugely, but it has been re-shaped. It continues to grow and metamorphose, with some brands succeeding and others failing: proof that jumping on this bandwagon does not guarantee success per se. As marketeers we need to heed early learnings but avoid making assumptions about vegan or plant-based consumers that soon become out of date.
What do we realise about brand marketing in this category?
§ It has become a highly competitive market - with brands now even facing stiff competition from the own-brands across many categories of the market. (As I write this, Tesco have just announced their launch of Plant Chef.) Being plant-based is not a USP per se.
§ There is consumer cynicism in this market - lots of companies are getting on the band wagon, but consumers are savvy enough to know when the brand credentials are not authentic and when the product lacks a strong relevance to them.
§ Tone and language is key to achieving credibility - it’s a big challenge for brand and packaging design agencies, because the rules are new and can be tricky to navigate.
§ Communications through social media and the plant-based community network is really important in this market.
Caroline Thompson Associates (CTA) provides consumer insight to help develop and launch new brands in the plant-based market. We have category expertise through our client experience and through managing @VegantoDinner.com which was set up to engage with and listen to consumers in this market. Caroline Thompson can be contacted on Caroline@CThompson.co.uk
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