28th August 2019

It’s about what you are, not what you’re not…

Who wants to be a substitute? Founder and Creative Director Mike looks at the Free-From movement and why brands in this arena should focus on what they have to offer instead of what they’re not.

The rise and rise of vegans and veggies and the shocking state of the environment have spawned a massive increase in meat and dairy alternatives. It’s becoming increasingly mainstream – even high-street outlet Thornton’s Budgens has just expanded its vegan range to 800 items.

This market is not new, and there have been options in this category for decades. But, whereas the likes of Quorn and Linda McCartney focus on what they are not, the challengers are focusing on what they are.

You could replace your favourite beef burger with a meat-free Quorn alternative, or you could have The Beyond Burger! Whereas Quorn focuses on what it doesn’t contain, The Beyond Burger is all about saving the planet with delicious plant-based food. The former sounds fine if you’re a vegan or veggie wanting to put a burger-shaped thing in a bun; the latter sounds fantastic regardless of who you are.

The difference in positioning is marked. One is wholly focusing on positives, and the other is focusing on being a substitute. And who wants to be a substitute? The reality is there are no clear-cut principles driving this phenomenon. People drop meat and dairy from their diets for all kinds of reasons, so products and brands serving this market need to focus on the positives.

When Pepsi and Coca-Cola created sugar-free versions, Coke chose to talk about what they are not, branding themselves as Zero, whereas Pepsi went the other way with Max. Would you rather live life to the Max or as a Zero? (Pepsi Max is not just bigger than Coke Zero, it’s bigger than Coke and Diet Coke, according to Nielsen.)

Brands that are early to a new market help pave the way for newcomers. The question is, why haven’t any of the established brands changed their positioning to ensure their long-term success? Why aren’t they focusing more on what today’s consumer wants and challenging what they’ve always done before? Too often, companies are fixated on protecting what they have rather than creating something new.

Our brand and packaging strategy for new plant-based gelato Gigi focused on positioning the brand as a credible ice cream. Rather than being an alternative to the traditional dairy offering, we wanted consumers to reach for Gigi regardless of their dietary requirements or preferences, the bonus being that it is healthy and packed full of good stuff.

As the free-from market expands, there are going to be many more upstarts arriving on the scene with positive stories to tell, adding further disruption to the food industry. If these challengers keep shifting the message from what they are not to what they are – delicious food that’s good for the planet – it’ll be a big win for consumers. Hopefully we will see veteran brands switch focus and start talking about the positives too.

To be clear, I’m not advocating that any of this should be to decrement of transparent labelling. Some people who are buying free-from rely on clear labelling as consuming the wrong product could be catastrophic. Ensuring people can understand quickly if the product is safe for them is vital. That doesn’t mean it should be the central tenet of your marketing strategy.

Originally posted on Fab News.