Plant-based brands: How to go from alternative to mainstream

May 23, 2019

How to position your plant-based product for mainstream success

Walk the aisles of any grocery store and the proof is unmistakable: plant-based products are more than just a trend. Consumers seeking alternatives to animal products have far exceeded just vegans or those with special dietary needs, for various reasons. Mintel data show that in the U.S., over half of consumers agree that plant-based offerings are better for the environment than animal-based options. Additionally, animal welfare (or lack thereof) can be an indicator of a brand’s commitment to environmental and ethical responsibility. Every food brand should be looking for ways that they can insert themselves into the plant-based revolution happening in nearly every category.

But, with several categories nearing a saturation point for plant-based offerings (e.g. alternative milk), it has become necessary for brands to pay close attention to how they position their new offerings prior to launch.

Big brands and small brands face different sets of challenges. For big brands that have long held court in traditional product spaces, consumer skepticism can be difficult to overcome when presenting new plant-based options. For smaller brands (particularly those entering entirely new plant-based product categories), educating consumers on product benefits, taste appeal, etc., can often prove to be a big hurdle to product trial.

Several successful plant-based brands provide real-world examples of how best to position and successfully launch plant-based products. Here are three ways:

 

1. Adopt the cues of the mainstream/traditional product

One of the most visual ways to convince consumers that a plant-based product is just like its traditional ‘competition’ is to visually relate the category cues of the traditional product. Beyond Meat, specifically the Beyond Burger, is sold in the fresh meat aisle and uses graphic elements very similar to ground beef brands. Those cues communicate to a consumer that they are buying an equally delicious replacement for a traditional product.

Or, in the case of New Barn Organics, a nut-based milk, font type, reminiscent of vintage dairy brands, and farm icons that are often seen on dairy brands, are used as elements of the brand’s logo. These subtle visual cues assure consumers that, yes, this product really is a swap for your conventional dairy milk.

 

2. Tout the functional benefits

As consumers continue to think more holistically about their food and diet, it makes sense for food companies to lean in to the specific functional benefits a product offers. Several brands, including Elmhurst and Banza, have made protein claims integral to their brand. The chickpea pasta brand, Banza, prominently shouts its protein and fiber claims at the very top of its packaging and at nearly the same size as the brand name itself. The successful brand continues to garner more shelf space at Whole Foods as well as other traditional grocers. The protein-packed pasta is clearly still on trend within a growing category.

 

3. Celebrate who you are

As more brands launch in the crowded plant-based sphere, a bold message can help a brand stand out. Incorporating a swagger, cheekiness, or cool attitude in your marketing and packaging can convince consumers of your product’s superiority ( “This brand must be good if they’re calling themselves the best”).

The launch of Swedish brand, Oatly, in the U.S. was backed by a particularly bold advertising campaign with the tagline, “Hello future oatmilk drinker.” The ads acknowledged the introduction of the dairy alternative and assumed that the company already had a loyal consumer base. Additionally, Oatly’s launch at exclusive, trendy coffee shops allowed the brand to create an enormous demand for the product before the product even launched at retail. A public outcry occurred when the company’s production wasn’t able to keep up with demand. (Source: Mission.org)

While plant-based diets continue to become the norm, and products proliferate, the need for careful positioning that goes beyond just an alternative or novelty will become even more crucial to success. Consumers will be looking for authenticity and products that can deliver on the promise of good taste and healthy benefits. Be that brand, and consumers will reward you with loyalty and success.

 

Erin Yancey is a senior account manager and founding member of Chase Design Group’s Chicago office. She is passionate about building brands through world-class, consumer-focused creative. Contact: erin@chasedesigngroup.com