Blog Post

Marketing Vegan Foods - Where it’s all going wrong

Recently I’ve been working on a digital marketing campaign proposal for a prospective client who is creating a new high-end Vegan food experience. By pure chance, today I stumbled upon this article by David Burrows from Marketing Week called “How brands can tap into the Flexitarian trend.” (well worth a read).
The evolutionary blurring between the lines of healthy conscientious eating and vegan/vegetarian food (yes I know there is a difference between Veggies and Vegans) is an interesting topic and one that I’m going to have a poke at, as I too identified the issue with branding and planning comms for plant based food dining, where the target markets aren’t Veggies or Vegans (VVP).

When you start examining the nature of this growing sector, it’s easy to spot the pitfalls with labelling Vegan/Veggie food for fear of alienating a broader dining market labelled Flexitarian, who eat meat, but choose plant-based food due to the health and social capital benefits.
You only have to look around most dying High Streets these days to spot an independently owned quaint VVP foodery, perhaps struggling to break even, more than likely as a result of this perplexing dilemma.

The problem is that times have changed and labelling some things can actually be more damaging than allowing your customers to label you.

When I was at school and college back in the mid to late 1990’s, it seemed like interpreting the world around us was more straight forward and cut and dry than it is today. For example, back then if you weren’t Heterosexual, you were automatically considered Gay, you were either Male or Female and vegetarian food was for hippies. Modern times are more progressive, with blurred boundaries, making identity a difficult thing. These days there’s gender neutral toilets in colleges, Polysexuality and somehow vegetarian food is both a growing trend and a damaged label.

So if consumers want to eat vegan or vegetarian food, and identify vegan and vegetarian food as healthy, but are put off by the term vegan and vegetarian as they might not be vegan or vegetarian,

then what is the answer for marketers?

The solution in my opinion lies with the psychographic segmentation approach, rather than the physical, functional or utilitarian attributes. The issue is that veggie food is where meat was 40 years ago, and really needs to do some catching up.

So what do we know about market opportunities for Flexitarianism? If we look to our slightly controversial cousins across the pond in America, this usually dictates where the U.K. will be in about 3 years. When I did a food and beverage tour in Chicago in 2015, Protein oriented F and B venues were popping up left right and centre, and more importantly fast food restaurants with purely plant-based healthy and ethically sourced products were becoming big. They didn’t shout about being VVP, but this is where the sector needs to catch up with meat. Do McDonalds state that they are for carnivores or omnivores? No, of course not. They focus on connecting their food with family, friends and family milestones, making emotional connections between the experience of eating there, rather than the food ingredients. In this same way, the so called veggie and vegan food market needs to do the same, focusing on building solid brand equity, meaningful salience and digestible brand meaning, connecting social capital (ethical eating for example) with the experience and letting the food speak for itself, rather than ring fencing it as something damaging.

I also mentioned earlier about the issues with labelling things these days. What means one thing to one person, will mean something different to someone else. Big brands realised the power of consumer augmented experience years ago and have been working to develop user-generated or co-created marketing experiences since. This is an area I think brands entering into the VVP sector could benefit from capitalising on. Allow your customers to create their own brand meaning and brand messages. Your role is to provide the experience and set the parameters of your values, setting the mould for the social capital customers gain from eating your food.

Got any thoughts? Carry on the conversation on Twitter @digitalpaintweb, using #DPBlog and #DPinsights.

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