The future is plant-based. Here’s how brands can get us there, writes This Way Up founder Chris White
There is no doubt the world is facing a climate crisis and, with environmental disasters raging throughout 2022, there has never been a more pressing need to reduce emissions. Experts say that a shift towards a plant-based diet would make a huge impact in saving the planet: if the whole world went vegan it would save nearly eight billion tonnes of CO2, according to the IPCC. The future must be plant-based.
This is where brands come in. They can play a fundamental role in changing how consumers behave, encouraging them to adopt a plant-based lifestyle. However, not enough are playing that part.
For starters, we need more product innovation. Brands need to look to grains, seeds, pulses and vegetables that haven’t been leveraged effectively in the 21st century. It means new technologies as well: it could be lab grown products, new fermentation techniques or using algae and other sea crops. The supply chain also needs to be changed. In the West, there are too many raw ingredients being brought in from other parts of the world or too many processed ingredients in them.
From a design point of view, a lot of brands mimic cues from meat-based categories, focusing on the idea of substitution. That’s understandable, people love familiarity and it can help them make incremental changes in their lifestyle, but brands need to be bolder.
Yes, it is challenging to entice consumers to try new tastes and textures, but there is a huge opportunity for plant-based brands to be creative and inspiring. Vegetables are more versatile than meat and a plant-based lifestyle isn’t just about trying to imitate burgers or sausages.
Similarly, plant-based brands or brands who offer plant-based products also need to move away from vegan and vegetarian category stereotypes, like greenery and leaf motifs. This is a revolution: it needs to be exciting. Simulate Nuggs is a great example of this. The brand captures the high-tech nature of its meat alternative product, totally breaking those visual codes of the plant-based category.
Other challenges include people still thinking that plant-based products don’t taste as good or don’t contain enough protein. This is where communication comes in, brands need to use colour, visual imagery and tone of voice to get the right messages across.
For many people plant-based can come across as self-righteous and worthy, but playfulness can open the door to wider audiences. Storytelling makes the difference. Brands can use characters and humour to engage new audiences, particularly the younger generation who will grow up leading this new lifestyle. La Vie does this really well, using character illustrations and punchy colours to “celebrate life”, making the brand identity engaging and fun.
There have also been unfortunate incidents that have knocked consumer confidence, such as Tesco’s advert for Plant Chef getting banned for misleading claims about its environmental impact. Transparency and being wary of green-washing are crucial. Brands should analyse their data and the life cycle of the product, identifying its impact. Those who are making the right moves then need to shout about it.
It’s clear there needs to be huge upheaval. Plant-based food is going to change our world, in the same way the Industrial Revolution did, but plant-based brands, particularly bigger brands, need to be bolder and more disruptive.
It’s not just about having innovative products but also having the right way of communicating to people the benefits of switching to a plant-based lifestyle. If brands can get the nutritional and environmental benefits communicated clearly, combined with playful and fun storytelling, it will help save the world.