Latif Andersson from Peas of Heaven, Kristina Londakova from the Behavioral Insights team, Armando Perez-Cueto from Umeå University, and Steve Swindon from LoveSeitan discussed the marketing of plant-based food and the role of flexitarians as a target group in our webinar ‘5 marketing fails to avoid with plant-based food’. You can watch the recording here.
To kick things off, the two brand representatives in the panel share insights about their target audience.
Peas of Heaven targets the ‘urban explorer’, someone who is open to trying new things but who has limited time resources, does not want to cook for an hour a day and is looking to increase their plant-based consumption. Peas of Heaven thus offers processed meat alternatives that are tasty and convenient, making for an easy transition to a more plant-based diet.
LoveSeitan started out as a vegan brand but is starting to target a broader audience, with a stronger focus on flexitarians.
When looking at the 5 Cs ‘Convenience, Context, Cost, nutritional Content, and Carbon footprint’ […] context is important. People want to see something that they recognise, and they want to know what to do with it because people are cautious about trying new things. If you are giving them a burger, they know what to do with it. If you are giving them a nugget, they know what to do with it. But if you give them a lump of something, they don’t necessarily know what to do with it without some guidance.”
Armando shares his definition and knowledge of flexitarianism: “Flexitarianism is an entirely new identity that didn’t exist 15 years ago. It is also a very flexible definition. Some flexitarians are in practice vegan or vegetarian, while some are heavy meat consumers. The identity reflects the fact that mainstream consumers are taking the ethical aspects of food consumption more seriously and are interested in the sustainability part of the equation. It reflects a societal intention to reduce animal products. But the data suggests that the gap between intention and behaviour is still there”.
Key influences on consumers’ food choices
Kristina talks about the key influences on consumers’ food choices: individual and psychological reasons (e.g. taste, preferences, values, habits) that are reducible to five main criteria: taste, cost, variety, convenience, health, and, more recently, also sustainability. Social factors include peers, role models, and broader cultural norms. Also vitally important is the wider physical and economic context, which can include pricing as well as the physical structure of the purchasing environment. This all contributes to the ‘choice architecture’ around a product.
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Referring to choice architecture, Latif says: “When Oatly started in Sweden, it was placed in the lactose/allergy-free dairy section. Nobody looking for taste or following their habits without any special requirements would go to that part of the store. At the moment, our products from Peas of Heaven are placed on a similar shelf – where I didn’t go before I started Peas of Heaven when looking for something tasty or exciting. We have done some tests, and, if our products were placed in the meat aisle, the consumer wouldn’t mind trying it if the price is right and it communicated taste. In 7-Elevens, we are placed in the meat section, with one SKU next to maybe seven meat SKUs, and 12% or 13% of sales are now plant-based. If I could prioritise, placement would have the biggest effect for us.”
We have done some tests, and, if our products were placed in the meat aisle, the consumer wouldn’t mind trying it if the price is right and it communicated taste.”
Kristina references Linda Bacon’s study, which found a sales increase when vegetarian menu items were not placed in a separate section on the menu, and adds that “If you place plant-based products in the ‘normal’ section, you communicate that it is a normal choice to make”.
Latif comments on sustainability as a marketing factor: “Flexitarians are not like hard-core vegans who are willing to discount taste to make a more sustainable choice”. Instead, sustainability “is another strong factor” when taste and price align.
Building on sustainability, Steve, says: “A factor is that there is no standardisation when it comes to reporting sustainability. Some people are working on this and I could see that, in two or three years, it will become just as important as the traffic-light nutritional information.”
Appealing to the consumer
Steve and Kristina both highlight the importance of making products easy and accessible to consumers so they know intuitively how to prepare them. Kristina underlines the importance of language and references a study by the Behavioural Insights Team and the World Resources Institute which concludes that indulgent language like “field-grown breakfast” is more appealing to consumers than descriptions such as “meat-free breakfast”. The results were tested in Sainsbury’s cafés and sales went up by 70%.
When asked about the role of price, Steve predicts that meat prices will go up, but mainly sees volume as a critical factor. Part of LoveSeitan’s mission is to make products accessible, which is not just about distribution but also about price point.
Latif names underinvesting in sampling sessions as a possible pitfall of plant-based brands. Products should be test-tasted in order to convince consumers of the taste benefits and to present the brand. He also emphasises executing decisions all the way through. Just deciding to do more sampling sessions is not enough. A brand should, for example, also think about who is doing the sampling and what the brand wants to communicate. Latif also stresses the importance of packaging design.
Steve touches on inclusive messaging that is not targeted exclusively at vegans and which doesn’t demonise meat and meat-eaters: “Saving animals is a great thing. But we have to accept that that does not resonate with everyone.” In fact, he has also observed the opposite – brands that are careful not to be labelled as vegan. Steve advises to be inclusive in marketing, and to not exclude a group, as the potential target consumer group for most products is very broad.
Latif comments that “targeting the flexitarian” is not a good start, that brands should narrow it down.
In response to the discussion on narrowing down the target group, Armando says: “I realise with horror that there is a lot of knowledge that is kept in scientific papers, it is kept by academics. But this dialogue between academics and the companies is not so open. There is lots of information that would be extremely relevant for the companies and is available, but could be made more available. And then there is also information that is very expensive and not available for small companies. We need to make this information more democratically available, particularly for companies that are starting off.”
Don’t focus on vegans, they’ll come anyway”
The discussion circles back to language. Steve highlights that ‘vegan’ might be exclusive, but people know what it is, while ‘plant-based’ has no clear definition and can be a number of things, including eggs or dairy. Armando adds that this is precisely the reason why the term “plant-based” is more appealing to flexitarians – because it supports flexible diets.
Latif adds that the next step would be to lose those descriptors altogether and just sell great products.
For a deep dive into all the topics discussed in this webinar along with some more statistics, case studies and actionable insights, check out our whitepaper with the same name!
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