Figures about the plant-based industry speak volumes about its potential and opportunities. The 2016 UK Supermarket Sales show a substantial growth in dairy-free vegan products – ‘free from’ products have seen an increase of £123 million while the sales of Alpro, one of the leading soy-based food and drink manufacturers in Europe, has risen by £23 million. Meanwhile, the meat and dairy industries have witnessed a decline – the sales of fresh meat has recorded a drop of £328 million and dairy has suffered the loss of £54 million. The promising growth of plant-based products implies that they are not as niche as before. In fact, they have gone beyond the ‘vegan/vegetarian’ consumers and reached meat-eating consumers who are seeking healthier and cleaner foods.
The ‘destigmatisation’ of vegan products has in fact worked to the advantage of the plant-based industry as meat-eating consumers are gradually including them in their everyday diet. When asked about the perception of vegan products, a recent poll shows that 35% of US consumers link it with healthy food and 13% think it has cleaner ingredients. 11% of consumers draw the connection between vegan products with environmental responsibility.
As omnivorous customers represent the big slice of the profit pie, how should plant-based products be marketed to the masses? Nikki Briggs, Founder and President of NEAR BOIL Brand Communications, explains, “Making plant-based food not a subtraction, but an addition” and “make customers have a fuller life” as they offer taste benefits and convenience. In the past, plant-based food mostly catered to vegans/vegetarians. Nowadays, it has to reach out to appeal to the general public, some of whom might be skeptical about it in the initial stages. What is ‘revolutionary’ about Beyond Meat is that it targets meat-eating consumers. When asked about their target audience, Ethan Brown states, “It’s the people who have already made the decision to try to reduce meat consumption…Our typical customer would be a meat reducer, who is probably still consuming chicken and salmon to some degree, but have sworn off of red meat, and they are gradually reducing their consumption of animal proteins.”
One smart marketing tactic employed to bridge the gap between plant-based products and meat-eating customers is to sell the Beyond Burger in the meat aisle. More often than not, plant-based products are stocked separately in a ‘vegetarian/vegan’ section. Selling plant-based products alongside meat piqued consumers’ curiosity, which prompted them to try the product in the first place. Omnivore customers were intrigued to find that there is not much difference in taste and texture between the Beyond Burger patty and other meat patties. Moreover, they were even pleasantly surprised that its nutrition value is superior to real meat. As mentioned before, as customers are becoming more health-conscious, many of them would not mind choosing a Beyond Burger without compromising the taste and meat craving.
A recent study conducted by Linde Bacon as her dissertation as part of her master course in Behavioural Science at the London School of Economics and Political Science has shown that downplaying the ‘vegan/vegetarian’ label can drive people to choose these options. Bacon elaborates on the motives for such study, saying that people make around 200 decisions about food and beverages each day and about 60 of these involve the choice of foods to eat. People certainly factor in taste, price, health and convenience while they also make some unconscious choices, affected by what they see first, how the food is displayed and even how it is described. Bacon set out to find out how the design of the menu in a restaurant would affect a patron to choose the main dish. Her subjects (750 people who normally eat meat and/or fish) were given a menu randomly. All the menus featured the same eight dishes, including meat, fish and vegetarian options, but designed in a different way. In the ‘Control’ menu, eight dishes were listed and 13.4% of the respondents who were assigned this menu chose a vegetarian dish. In the ‘Vegetarian’ menu, two vegetarian dishes were singled out and grouped under ‘Vegetarian Dishes’. Only 5.9% of the respondents who were assigned this menu chose a vegetarian dish, which was much lower than the control group. The study also discovered that highlighting a vegetarian dish under “Chef’s Recommendation” and describing the dish in a more appealing way were not effective in prompting respondents to choose a vegetarian dish.
The Beyond Burger and the ‘menu design’ study shed light on how plant-based products should be marketed more effectively to the masses. If they are placed separately under the ‘vegetarian/vegan’ category, many people will just brush them aside, thinking that they are not the target customers. By utilising a tactic as subtle as this, plant-based food can expand its clientele, encouraging more people to be flexitarians, thereby accelerating the development of the sector.