Plant-Based Power: The Marketing Behind Vegan Products

by Sam Woolfe Inspiring Interns

The popularity of veganism is skyrocketing in the UK. Market expert Mintel announced that the UK is now the world leader in vegan food launches, a position long held by Germany. And record numbers of people have signed up to Veganuary. There are different reasons why veganism is on the rise in the UK. Activism, documentaries, and social media activity certainly all play a role.

But we should also recognise how impactful marketing strategies can be as well. Many big brands are noticing these shifting lifestyle patterns and have been astutely marketing new vegan products in response. Vegan brands are also adept at appealing to consumers’ values as a way to market their products. The general public in the UK is becoming increasingly interested in products that are ethical, sustainable, and healthy.

Well-developed marketing strategies, in response to the rise of plant-based diets, are helping to attract many more people to veganism. Let’s take a look at why these marketing plans have been so successful.

Plant-Based Alternatives

Who would have thought that a vegan sausage roll could enthral the general public? But that’s what happened. The launch of the Greggs vegan sausage roll took the nation by storm. Due to overwhelming demand and the product selling out, the UK’s biggest bakery chain decided to launch the vegan sausage roll in all of its 1,800 stores.

Social media definitely helped to drive the trend. Piers Morgan, the presenter of ITV’s Good Morning Britain, expressed his outrage about the sausage roll on Twitter, to which Greggs responded, “Oh hello Piers, we’ve been expecting you”. This was a clever way of promoting the product, as Greggs knew that hitting back at Morgan would help fuel publicity.

Greggs emphasises how it is focused on ‘smart’ marketing. Neil Knowles, Brand Communications Manager at Greggs, said, “Rather than outspending, we are trying to think about how we can be smarter to punch above our weight.” And we can see how these clever marketing tactics were used in the launch of the vegan sausage roll.

The launch video – which parodied the release of a new iPhone – has garnered more than 5 million views. Greggs also sent journalists the vegan sausage roll to try in an iPhone-style box. The brand’s light-hearted and ironic approach to marketing has clearly paid off. Profits have soared since the release of the vegan sausage roll.

We have also seen the successful marketing of vegan products from big companies like TGI Fridays, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and major supermarkets like Waitrose and M&S.

How To Market Plant-Based Products

If we take M&S as an example, we can see that many of the products in its new plant-based range are labelled as ‘High in plant protein’. Indeed, many new vegan products include labels that highlight the nutritional benefits of the product. This helps to quash myths about how plant-based food is nutritionally deficient compared to animal products.

There is a persistent myth that vegan food lacks protein, for instance. So M&S understand the importance of highlighting to customers that its plant-based range can meet their nutritional needs. Greggs also released data showing that its vegan sausage roll has more protein in it than its meat counterpart.

You’ll also notice that some brands (e.g. Greggs and Pizza Hut) have used the word ‘vegan’ in their packaging and marketing while others (e.g. M&S) have opted for ‘plant-based’ instead. There are advantages and disadvantages to using either, from a marketing perspective.

On the one hand, plant-based is more inclusive, although the definition of ‘plant-based’ may also be unclear. Someone may see the word and think a product is mostly made up of plants, but not actually 100% vegan. If the word vegan is used, on the other hand, then you know the product is free from animal products. However, the word can also carry negative connotations and put some people off.

Bruce Friedrich, executive director of the Good Food Institute, has said that companies selling food free from animal products should avoid using the word ‘vegan’ if they want to boost sales. Companies should always opt for ‘plant-based’ instead, he argues. Nevertheless, Katrina Fox, writing for Forbes, believes that it all depends on context. She says:

If you’re aiming your product at mass consumers not overly interested in health, sustainability, ethics or allergens, I believe it’s still worth putting, in small letters, tucked away on the back of the packaging (as well as discreetly on your website) something like ‘suitable for vegans’ or ‘vegan-friendly’ or a vegan trademark symbol.”

Some vegan brands emphasise values such as compassion and sustainability when it comes to their marketing efforts. For example, Moving Mountains – a UK-based company that makes meatless burgers – states on its website, “Never has a burger tasted so delicious without the loss of a single animal life.”

One Planet Pizza, the UK’s first frozen pizza company, highlights on its packaging that its products are ‘Good for the planet’.

With more people making the switch to veganism or considering trying out the lifestyle, brands will have to find unique ways to market their vegan-friendly products. Greggs has shown how savvy digital marketing tactics can lead to highly profitable results. Indeed, online marketing seems to be the most effective way of reaching the vegan community, or those just interested in reducing their consumption of animal products, due to the instantaneous and shareable nature of digital content.