There has never been a better time in history to be a plant-based brand.
The fuse of growth has been lit, driven not just by latent demand from vegans and vegetarians (9% of the U.S. population), but by flexitarians (about one-third of the U.S. population) who are increasingly demanding more and more plant-based options. The plant-based meat and dairy category was up by 20% in 2018 and continues to grow with 39% of consumers actively trying to eat more plants, according to Nielsen. Yet even with incredible demand, the word “vegan” is still one of the least favored in the entire food dictionary.
True indeed that a rising tide lifts all ships. Yet with competition intensifying and consumers’ taste preferences evolving, plant-based brands face unique challenges to sustain their growth and increase sales velocities.
Even with demand on the rise, we find that the four myths of plant-based eating still remain hurdles in consumer adoption.
- Plant-based foods are more expensive than animal-based foods.
- Plant-based foods compromise taste, or don’t taste as good as animal-based.
- Plant-based foods are less convenient and more complicated than animal-based.
- Plant-based foods lack in nutrition (i.e. protein) when compared with animal-based.
Of course, we know these are about as true as the world being flat. Yet overcoming these biases in mainstream retail, in the food service channel or on e-commerce sites still present key challenges to spurring consumer adoption for your brand. With all the noise in these channels, here are four key tactics to educate consumers, spur trial and drive adoption (and thus velocity), specifically for plant-based brands.
1. Position your brand like its animal-based counterpart.
Why was Impossible Foods so successful in food service, or Beyond Meat in the retail channel? The key differentiator for these brands isn’t just in making fantastic products, but in their positioning appeal for the burger consumers. Analysts speculate that more than 70% of Beyond Meat’s consumers also eat meat. Do you think these people would look for their next meal in the vegan frozen foods section of their local Whole Foods Market, or right up at the meat counter? As we know, mainstream consumers want to eat more plant-based options—so position your brand along with its animal-based category to make the buy decision an easy one for them.
2. Sample like crazy.
This one is so important. Demos and sampling events are critical to driving your brand’s success in retail and food service. If many consumers are already biased to think that plant-based doesn’t taste as good, prove them wrong. There’s no better way to do this than own their first experience with your brand, and educate them in the process and dispel the plant-based myths. The surprise and delight factor alone is enough to spark interest and virality. Even better if you can send them along with a buy one, get one coupon to train their first purchase behavior with your brand.
3. Educate your brokers, distributors and sales partners.
Growth in the plant-based space is extremely exciting, yet for many stakeholders, they don’t know yet how to position partner brands for success in their sales channels. It is your job to educate them, not just on your brand, but the category context as a whole. This means developing and relaying a keen understanding of your target consumers, how to position plant-based on your partners’ menus or in their retail channel (plant-based > vegan), and proactively engaging in educational events like your distributors’ trade shows, demos and ride-alongs to key customers’ locations.
4. Micro-focus on specific consumer segments.
Having a sharpened understanding of your core target consumer is critical to ensuring product-market fit (and driving your sales). Targeting all flexitarians is likely way too broad. A key to growing your brand is knowing your truest 1,000 fans—your “sneezers” who infect everyone they touch. What specific need does your plant-based brand deliver to your customers? Think beyond the extrinsic benefits of “a better tasting nut milk” or “a more realistic plant-based meat.” Rather, think in terms of intrinsic benefit. Perhaps your brand is the cleanest non-dairy milk that health-conscious mothers will buy for their kids, which makes them feel safe and responsible. Or, perhaps, your plant-based meat delivers the juicy, umami flavor that 20-something flexitarian men crave after a workout and when they are out with their friends. Decide on deep levels of specificity, and test it! You won’t believe how loud your brand’s voice will become amplified when you make a direct-hit on your target consumer.
Morgan Keim is CEO of Sprouted Ventures, a market strategy and marketing collective that helps emerging plant-based brands achieve scale revenues, grow distribution and find funding. He was an integral member of the early launch teams at Impossible Foods, Motif Ingredients (Ginkgo Bioworks) and a number of emerging brands in the category.