It’s no secret that the plant-based category has become extremely crowded. Increasingly, we’re seeing people of all ages and backgrounds looking for more accessible and flavour-first vegan and vegetarian options. Brands are having to fight to stand out on the physical and online shelf, but when it comes to gaining the herbivore’s share of consumer attention, many brands are falling short because they’re ignoring perhaps the most important plant-based audience: flexitarians.
Although veganism is continuing to rise (according to The Guardian, a record 500,000 people signed up to the Veganuary challenge this year) for some audiences, vegan products still have a stigma attached. Put another way: we have a long way to go to convince mainstream and flexitarian audiences that plant-based products are a better alternative.
The design and branding of many plant-based products isn’t helping to break down those barriers. Design teams need to realise that vegan doesn’t have to mean preachy or worthy branding and design. In fact, those ‘eco’ looking, over complicated design notions can leave consumers on the verges of vegetarianism feeling isolated and distracted from the key point – that the product inside is delicious, and whether you’re vegan or not, you should want to buy it.
Companies should be opening up their products to a wider, more inclusive market of flexitarians. Accessibility and inclusivity are the building blocks of creating a brand experience that welcomes all people, regardless of their diet, into the fold. As veganism continues to rise and new alternatives enter the market, the design focus should be on the brand’s confident tone of voice and the appealing product inside, rather than the worthy plant-based messaging. Otherwise, brands are alienating the key audience of those reducing their meat intake but not committing to the labels of vegan or veggie.
Take Nurishh for example, Groupe Bel’s new plant-based cheese range. Rather than focusing on the vegan market, Groupe Bel sought to create a brand with wide appeal, targeting the flexitarian audience.
The identity for the range is accessible for all, highlighting that this is a product everyone around the table can enjoy, whether you have a dietary restriction or not. It’s about creating an inclusive brand for anyone seeking out healthier – but still delicious – options.
Plant-based brands need to try even harder from a design point of view. Consumers used to pick up a product for what it is, rather than what it looked like, but the saturation of the vegan category has changed that. With brands like Nurishh breaking onto the scene, companies like Violife (award-winning cheese alternative) have to work harder to retain customers and appeal to new markets.
Brands must focus on securing their place amongst the mainstream products, outside of the specialist aisles. Those that cater to a broader lifestyle instead of a specific dietary need, shouting about their tasty product rather than the vegan values, will be successful in breaking down the walls between plant-based offerings and mainstream audiences.
Brands like Nurishh, as both product and brand, break the conventions of vegan cheese, which is often packaged either as facsimiles of its dairy cousins or with neutral, unremarkable aesthetics that play up to its connotations of restricted diets. Using the design language to dial up taste cues and strongly communicate the product as a credible alternative, will create a more accessible and appealing world for a wider target market to step into.
Chris White, Managing Director, This Way Up
Chris co-founded this independent, award winning agency on a mission to create, define, and design brands that help people live healthier lives. Using their strategic understanding of the health and wellness market, the team deliver big ideas to brands of the future. Clients including Bel Groupe, Unilever, Danone, KP and Mizkan.