Home » Levelling the food playing field at New Food Conference 2023

Levelling the food playing field at New Food Conference 2023

Top insights from this year’s New Food Conference 2023

By Gemma Tadman, Business Communications Manager

ProVeg’s annual New Food Conference took place at the end of October in Berlin and was a resounding success!

If you’ve not heard of the event before, the New Food Conference is Europe’s largest gathering of food industry luminaries focused on the alt-protein sector, drawn from all over the world to exchange ideas on the best ways to create a more sustainable food system. The event featured eye-opening panel discussions, presentations, and networking opportunities aplenty, along with some innovative start-up pitches.

Hosted at Axica Conference Centre both live and online, the New Food Conference always provides the ideal place to pick up implementable insights for your business and discover new investments, as well as actions to effectively support the building of a sustainable and resilient food system.

New Food Conference took place October 25-26, 2023. Credit: Ronja Bossen.

In this article, I’ll dive into two of my favourite discussions from day one that covered some of the necessary steps for ‘levelling the playing field’ between plant-based and animal-based foods,1 featuring the key roles that retailers can play. 

So, let’s head to Berlin!

Retailer’s best practices

When it comes to encouraging more consumers to make more sustainable food choices, we all know that supermarkets have a big role to play. During the discussion headlined ‘Retailer’s best practices: implementing plant-based alternatives in off- and online retail’, efficient communication arose as a crucial tool in achieving this.

How you communicate about plant-based products is important.”

Verena Wiederkehr

Head of Plant-Based Development, BILLA AG, at New Food Conference 2023

But, how did our panel experts recommend communicating about plant-based products in retail? How can we do this in a way that gives plant-based options equal footing? And, where does product naming fit into this?

Verena Wiederkehr, Head of Plant-Based Development, BILLA AG, explained: “We need to differentiate animal-based products from plant-based products – they should be the same [name-wise] but clearly state they are plant-based.” 

When it comes to product labelling in retail, Verena had strong advice. “Use a V-Label to communicate to those who are actively looking for ‘vegan’, but don’t state ‘vegan’ anywhere else. The V-Label should be the only sign to say ‘vegan’ – the rest should only say plant-based,” Verena advised.

New Food Conference 2023
Credit: Miyeon Choi

“I do believe that the category has evolved so much that we have reached a different product quality level [from previous vegan products] and this entails different messaging. If we call products ‘vegan’ people will think back to when the category wasn’t so good taste-wise, but our assortment has developed and thus, so should our communications around the products,” she added.

Jessie van Hattum, Sustainability Specialist at the Green Protein Alliance, seconded this approach, explaining how “we’ve learned from years of communicating about products using the word ‘vegan’ only, that we are addressing only a small group, and other groups get a negative reaction.”

Certainly, the goal is to attract bigger and more diverse audiences to plant-based eating – like flexitarians, and omnivores, who perhaps haven’t tried plant-based yet. Thus, our communication tactics should focus on attracting these larger groups and prioritise ‘normalising’ alternative protein food products. 

Just before the panel closed, Jessie made a powerful statement. “The force you bring with you as a plant-based communicator in retail should be bigger than the force you have as an animal-based product communicator. We need a lot of enthusiasm to do something that has not been done before. We can’t wait for the government to make these rules, we need to take courageous steps [ourselves].”

new food conference 2023
Image shows Jessie van Hattum speaking. Credit: Ronja Bossen.

This sentiment resonated with me. So often in industry, we wait – to be told to do something; for rules to be put in place that mean we must do something, rather than taking a stand to implement changes ourselves. Retailers and other industry players need to make daring plant-based moves that demonstrate to the government that the alternative protein industry is important and deserving of a level playing field. 

The steps that Jessie refers to involve using a multitude of tactics – implementing a protein monitor, for example, which is used to identify and understand the animal-to-plant protein ratio across your retail stores. This information can then be publicly disclosed (like Lidl Germany did) and used to make an informed, sustainable protein shift. These moves also include actively employing nudges in-store and online to encourage consumers to make more plant-based decisions. A protein ratio monitor can also help kick off a price parity initiative or create bold marketing and promotional campaigns.

“How do big companies like Red Bull market their products? They make it fun! Create fun activities [in-store, online, and through marketing] that don’t have anything to do with ‘plant-based’ but just show how fun it is to be in this world. Show the energy!”

Jessie van Hattam

Sustainability Specialist at the Green Protein Alliance

Actionable insights:

  • Clear differentiation: Use similar names (where legally possible) for both your animal-based and plant-based products but clearly indicate the latter is plant-based. Keep it simple for transparent shopping.
  • Use a V-Label: Don’t use the word ‘vegan’ on your packaging, instead, use a V-Label, and labelling that emphasises ‘plant-based’ over ‘vegan’. Focus on the quality and taste attributes over the ‘vegan’ attributes.
  • Broaden your audience: Target a diverse customer base, not just vegans. Normalise plant-based options to attract flexitarians and new customers.
  • Prioritise your plant-based ranges: Give plant-based products the best shelf placements in store and grant them a higher marketing budget; essentially, put in more effort towards communicating the plant-based products than the animal-based ones.
  • Proactive enthusiasm: Take initiative and show enthusiasm for sustainability. Don’t wait for regulations; lead the way in promoting plant-based choices.

Stable price development 

Price equality between animal- and plant-based products was another focus point in my two favourite talks at the New Food Conference.

But to begin this section of the dive, why do we need price equality in the first place, and how will this affect the future of food in Europe? This was a key question posed by Paul Rich, ProVeg Director of Strategy and Growth, the moderator of the panel discussion, ‘How to guarantee a stable price development and stay competitive with the meat and dairy industry?’.

Credit: Miyeon Choi

Price equality is one excellent move that will help on the journey of ‘levelling the playing field’ between plant-based and animal-based products.

Price equality would make plant-based products more cost-competitive with animal-based products, affordable to more consumers, and thus, accessible for everyday shoppers.

Amali Bunter, Head of Sustainability for Lidl Germany, explained: “Our price parity move can make us as discount retailers operate in this complex environment to give consumers choice and an easy decision when they come in store.”

Lidl Germany’s recent decision to equalise the pricing of its plant- and animal-based products across all German stores is notable, and one that other European retailers are now replicating.

Although it’s a great start that sets a fantastic example for policymakers, it doesn’t start and end with price parity. Industry players can do more than equalise product prices to level the playing field. 

“Policymakers mostly react, so it’s crucial to have big retailers that set great examples because then we can change a lot.”

Dirk Liebenberg

Senior Project Manager at ProVeg International

new food conference 2023
Image shows Dirk Liebenberg. Credit: Miyeon Choi

Rosa Tauber, Head of Sustainability and Environment at Rud Pedersen Public Affairs Berlin, explained that we also “need a 0% tax” on plant-based products, adding that businesses can help by seeking out “conversations with policymakers on tax.”

“And,” Rosa continued, “we also need more awareness in raising public procurement.”

How else can we level the playing field?

  • Lowering the VAT on plant-based products to match or fall below animal-based ones.
  • Allocating more subsidies for plant-based agriculture.
  • Investing in public education campaigns that inform consumers about the environmental, ethical, and health implications of their dietary choices.
  • Promoting R&D grants for plant-based food innovation to improve the quality and affordability of plant-based products.
  • And much more.

So how can businesses help policymakers to level the playing field? What can we do to get our agenda higher on the government’s radar?

Rosa explained that we need to be having conversations with our governing bodies. “Reach out to governments about policy and explain your products and needs – what you need to be successful.”

Image shows Amali Bunter. Credit: Miyeon Choi

Dirk Liebenberg, Senior Project Manager at ProVeg International, agreed: “Lead by example, and exchange best practices and believe in your products. Help policymakers to understand that ‘you can’t lose if you invest into this future.’ These are the big levers we have in making the plant-based choice more affordable.”

He added: “Communicate what you are doing to help consumers make better choices for their health and the environment. Don’t compromise on choice; help the sector develop; work with farmers and product developers. There is much to gain from using these strategies.”

Essentially, it’s about working together as retailers, across the industry, and with policymakers: “We shouldn’t underestimate the power of collaboration,” said Amali. “There is a lot at stake here with different opportunities. We need to work on long-term ambitions and make the right investment at the right time.”

“The market in Germany can’t do this on our own,” Amali added. “We all need to get involved. We [Lidl] hope all the industry and sector players will get involved – how we can come together to understand where we are and what levers we have as retailers to pull to make changes. But we have to do this together.”

Levelling the playing field between plant- and animal-based products won’t be easy, and it won’t be as ‘simple’ as achieving price parity or communicating more efficiently to consumers. However, the conversations at this year’s New Food Conference showed that with strong collaborations and transparent communications from a wide variety of food industry players, we can get the journey started. 

Actionable insights:

  • Implement a price parity initiative: Show policymakers that you mean business by equalising the price of your own-brand plant-based ranges with your animal-based ones. 
  • Engage with policymakers: Get in touch with policymakers and explain your needs, and what your products can offer consumers, in terms of health and sustainability. Show them why they should invest in this space. 
  • Advocate for a level playing field: Industry players can go beyond this by advocating for a 0% tax on plant-based products, lowering VAT, allocating more subsidies, and investing in public education campaigns.
  • Collaborate across industry: To truly level the playing field, collaboration among retailers, the food industry, and policymakers is vital. By working together, sharing best practices, and communicating transparently, we can collectively make the plant-based choice more affordable and accessible to a broader audience.

Conclusion: the power of retailers

My main takeaway from these talks is that we mustn’t underestimate the power that retailers have in enacting change within our food system – by communicating with consumers, making sustainable food affordable, directing consumer decisions, and through influencing policy. 

In a world where sustainability is not just a trend but a necessity, these insights from the New Food Conference underscore the need for swift, decisive action within the food industry. 

Image shows some of the NFC’s amazing plant-based catering. Credit: Miyeon Choi. 

As we continue to explore the discussions and innovations from the conference, stay tuned for more valuable takeaways and best practices for your organisation. Together, we can shape the future of food.

Did you attend New Food Conference? What were your favourite panel discussions from the two days? Let us know on our LinkedIn page! And get in touch with [email protected] for more support on your alternative protein strategy.


  1. In this instance, ‘levelling the playing field’ involves creating fair and equitable competition between the plant- and animal-based categories. It involves ensuring that plant- and animal-based products can compete on a more equal footing in the market.

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