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The Meatless Mindset: A Retail Revolution?

Landor & Fitch’s Jovan Buac explores the growing number of opportunities the vegan market holds

Jovan Buac

Executive Business Director, Consumer Brands EMEA at Landor & Fitch

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The number of people turning vegan is on the rise, particularly amongst the younger generation, with a quarter of British millennials saying the Covid-19 pandemic has made veganism more appealing.

Animal cruelty and a more sustainable, healthier lifestyle are just some of the reasons why many choose to become vegan. The non-profit organisation Veganuary has been a driving force in boosting the appeal of trying a plant-based diet, specifically around its January campaign which last year saw over five million people participate. 

As more people begin to explore veganism, there is a growing demand for product accessibility.  Bloomberg Intelligence predicts that the global plant-based alternatives market could grow to $162 billion in the next decade; a whopping 451% increase in market value compared to 2020 figures. It isn’t just fully-fledged vegans looking for an alternative to animal produce either; 92% of plant-based meals in the UK are consumed by an estimated 22 million flexitarians.

With Veganuary becoming more popular among consumers, launching new and innovative products with special offers and clear messaging is a sound strategy for grocery retailers. Currently, however, it's the plant-based start-ups that are leading the charge – and the big players could learn a thing or two.

Consumer-focused strategies

Last year, Meatless Farm launched new plant-based breakfast products after it found a quarter of British consumers were spending more time making breakfast during the week, with around 20% opting for a hot meal. By keeping a close eye on trending behaviours and shifting habits of the population, the brand was able to create a brilliant business opportunity and attract a rake of new customers.

The test-and-learn approach synonymous with more agile start-ups also enables product development to be more experimental and interesting; in turn, catching the eye of curious customers looking for difference and novelty. Take the pioneering Beyond Meat brand, which was actually founded back in 2009. They initially started exploring plant-based chicken products but pivoted a few years later to produce the now iconic ‘Beyond Burger’.

Brands should embrace their position and generate new ideas and creative options which are aligned with their own brand purpose and identity

Jovan Buac, Executive Business Director, Consumer Brands EMEA at Landor & Fitch

The brand didn’t achieve mainstream success until a decade after 2009, but in that time, they perfected recipes and experimented in unique ways – an example of this was the much talked about ‘burger bleed’ which they finally achieved through using beetroot juice. 

They are also using the power of social media as their main communication channel, driving content and conversations around their ethos to spark interest and engagement from followers. For example, Ella Mills built up her fanbase by using her social channels as a platform to discuss her health struggles while also creating a forum for sharing delicious ways of feeling better through whole foods and a plant-based diet.

This led to the launch of the Deliciously Ella brand that many of us in the UK follow and know about today. Social media, when used in a unique and genuine way, can form deep relationships with audiences and directly contribute to a brand’s ongoing success.

Brand-led creativity

Incumbent retailers have often struggled to connect with the vegan consumer, and as more plant-based products hit the shelves, relevance, differentiation, and price will play a role in attracting interest. Buying up leading vegan brands to build market share or secure market growth is no longer a guaranteed winning strategy. It just risks the start-up losing what made it unique and appealing to the customer in the first place and engagement will likely wane.

Instead, brands should embrace their position and generate new ideas and creative options which are aligned with their own brand purpose and identity. Linda McCartney Foods, for example, aims to make plant-based eating accessible to all – pioneering the Grow Your Own with Linda’s initiative that helps make growing fruit and vegetables more accessible to people in inner-city locations across the country.

Changing ways of working internally is another brilliant step on the path to brand-led creativity. Employees have the brand in mind, and at heart, every day. Pulling together teams of people from different departments in the business can foster diversity and creativity in unprecedented ways.

And if necessary: recruit new thinkers, carve new divisions. In 2020, M&S introduced an ’Innovation Hub’ – a specialist team to focus on creating disruptive innovation in its food business, taking action to address sustainability issues while ensuring it stayed relevant to its loyal M&S customers.

A retail revolution

Veganuary specifically looks to work with businesses, shouting about new products and offers to millions of recipients in its daily emails, so both vegans and participating brands can have the best experience.

And not just for the month either – last year, 72% of Veganuary participants said they planned to stay vegan and 93% of those who didn’t want to commit full-time were still likely to try veganism in the future, meaning the success retailers witness isn’t limited; its set to be a revolution in retail as we know it.

The potential for long-term success in this category is huge. And as with every emerging or disrupted category, the key elements to succeeding in the long haul are a mix of intuitive strategies and brand-led experiences or products that spark deep connections. 

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