Making connections with plant-based consumers

Authenticity is key, which means that brands will need to ensure that any sustainability credentials are followed through the entire production, packaging and marketing process.

It’s official, the word ‘vegan’ appeared in fewer searches in 2022 than in 2021. According to the latest analysis there’s been a steady decline in popularity of the term over the last two years. Together with the news that some of the major meat alternatives are facing rocky times, you could be forgiven for thinking that we’ve past our plant-based peak. 

The truth, however, is based in terminology rather than trends. Recent studies reveal that 1 in 4 Britons have reduced their consumption of animal-based products since 2020 and the global market for meat alternatives is growing at a rate of 15% per year in the same time frame. But increasingly the people behind these stats identify as ‘plant-based’ rather than ‘vegan’. 

But what’s the difference?  

For easy reference, let’s call those following a plant-based diet ‘planters’. Vegans and planters rank animal welfare highly as a reason for their lifestyle choices, but planters are equally likely to state environmental concerns or personal health as a factor behind their choice of diet. Planters are more flexible around consuming animal-based products and the group are made up of a more diverse demographic. 

So, there is a healthy and steadily growing population of planters in the UK but how do you reach such a broad and eclectic audience effectively? 

At Sticky we’ve rounded up the latest insights and trends to help you navigate the market and make genuine connections with an emerging audience: 

10 insights to connect with a plant-based audience 

1. The ‘fake’ debate: Fresh produce beats processed alternatives every time 

There’s been an explosion in plant-based food products that focus on providing alternatives to dairy and meat and aim to replicate the look, taste and texture of the original animal product. These range from burgers and sausages, to cheese, milk and even eggs. While this has been helpful to those just starting out on their plant-based journey and eases them into unfamiliar territory, data shows that 70% of global consumers aren’t interested in mimicry and are looking for a more unique experience in their plant-based food.  

The real opportunity is highlighting the ingredients used in products and the fact that they taste like the plants they’re made from. US brand Actual Veggies bridge the gap perfectly by producing patties made from 100% vegetables and highlighting their plant-based credentials. 

2. Sustainable and Responsible

Planters have a much higher interest in other environmental and social causes than the rest of the UK. Authenticity is key, which means that brands will need to ensure that any sustainability credentials are followed through the entire production, packaging and marketing process. Social responsibility, DEI policies and ethical business practises are all important to this audience too. 

Committing to people and planet will build trust and loyalty with a plant-based audience. Brands like Lefrik are going one step further by not only committing to a fully sustainable product but also making a charity donation for every one of their recycled bags sold. 

3. Inclusivity Matters

Refraining from eating or using animal products may seem a recent phenomenon to some but it’s been a part of some communities’ cultural norms for thousands of years. Brands entering this space need to consider diets and lifestyles that omit animal products around the world and make sure that these communities are included and represented in the product offering and marketing.  

Plant-based products which provide culturally inclusive options have been extremely successful in the US, however brands have to be sensitive and authentic by working closely with culturally indigenous chefs and influencers. The Vegan Society’s content with Nigerian chef Tommi Makanjuola is a great example of inclusivity served authentically across their online platforms. 

4. Build communities from connections

There’s a feeling of community across the plant-based world and a real sense of shared experience that is obvious from the thousands of influencers, groups, forums and boards that are dedicated to the lifestyle. The ‘Vegan’ Reddit thread currently has 1.2 million members alone and is active with discussion across a wide range of topics. 

Tapping into communities allows you to connect with audiences where they are naturally engaged. There’s an opportunity to create spaces either online or in real life through events and nurture communities rather than advertise around current platforms. Brands that start conversations and then listen, will be able to make the most of this opportunity. Pop up spaces like the temporary Superdrug shop in London, used to launch their own brand of plant-based products, show just how simple it can be to start dialogues with new consumers. 

5. Think beyond diet 

Since 2020, there’s been a 48% rise in the use of vegan leather when manufacturing cars.  It’s clear that for many people, the plant-based philosophy goes far beyond food. Drinks that omit animals from the production process are growing in popularity, as are beauty products, furnishings, clothing and accessories.  

Understanding plant-based as an all-encompassing lifestyle choice can help build connections in more unlikely places and futureproof brands in new verticals. Even luxury brands are jumping on the trend, Hermes and Stella McCartney are both working on versions of their trainers made from mushroom based ‘leather’. Talk about reducing your carbon footprint. 

6. A social first approach

The plant-based community are active social media users, both for connecting with friends and family and discovering and engaging with their favourite brands. Social platforms are the perfect space to reach a plant-based audience doing something that they love. 

Each platform can offer a unique connection point – recipes on TikTok, influencer collaborations on Instagram and corporate communications on LinkedIn can all combine for a thorough approach that reaches the widest possible audience.  Social activity also lends itself to interactive and creative content. Brands can be bold and have fun like Spanish plant-based producer Heura Foods, who have become famous in Europe for their guerrilla style social marketing. 

7. Don’t overlook flavour

In the past those following a plant-based diet may have been happy with the limited options on restaurant menus and supermarket shelves, but with developments in production and distribution methods, the focus has moved to quality and more importantly taste. 

Plant-based consumers want to surprise their tastebuds and have as many choices as possible open to them. The more natural the flavour, the better. 

The quest for many food brands has been to recreate meat flavours as accurately as possible. In a study by ADM, 50% of global flexitarians said meat alternatives needed taste improvements before they would consider switching for good. US brand Prime Roots is taking up the challenge by using fungi extract to create a natural and great-tasting bacon alternative with no synthetic additives. 

8. Perception is everything

Products that are labelled ‘meatless’ over those labelled ‘vegan’ can have reported a 16% boost in consumer demand – illustrating the importance of language when making a connection. 

Part of the reason fewer people identify as vegan and opt for plant-based, is the negative connotations that have been attached to the term over the years. Some plant-based consumers have no political affiliations or ethical reasons for their choice and find the ‘vegan’ labelling unappealing.  

Highlighting nutritional value, convenience, flavour and ingredients can be just as good a way to market products that a wider audience wouldn’t have considered before. 

9. Achieving cost parity

The cost and availability of plant-based products are cited as a major factor for those considering a switch to hold back. In order to connect with this group, especially in the current economic climate, it’s important to understand that plant-based food hasn’t reached cost parity with cheap meat and that price will be a deciding factor for a large percentage of consumers. 

To counter this, a number of supermarket own-brand ranges have been created that can easily fit into a shopper’s budget. The products give more of the population access to plant-based foods and remove the need for consumers to buy from speciality shops or online. Asda and Aldi are currently leading the market for affordable plant-based ranges. 

10. Invest in future generations

1 in 12 children in the UK are being raised on a plant-based diet which gives an idea of the future opportunity in this country. Family-friendly products served in larger portions mean only one meal has to be prepared to cater for everyone’s tastes and diets. 

Parents are actively campaigning for more plant-based options in schools and there are unlimited opportunities to collaborate with family influencers, celebrities and charities to educate and inspire a new generation to make their own lifestyle choices. 

Traditional child-friendly foods like chicken nuggets and sausages, are successfully bridging the gap to plant-based diets for younger people with traditional brands, like Disney and Kellogg’s partnering to create meat alternative frozen products aimed at families. 

How Sticky can help 

At Sticky we work with you using our data and research to identify new audiences you may not have considered and explore the ever-changing nature of existing consumer groups. If you want to pique the curiosity of new audiences and build innovative brand strategy let’s connect

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