Messages From Vegan Business Leaders on World Vegan Day, Part 1

On this World Vegan Day, we at vegconomist felt that this year it was especially important to boost morale in the industry and share insights and advice amongst the community. We asked business leaders: as we approach the end of what has been a turbulent year for many in the business, what is your message for the plant-based industry as we look ahead to 2024?

Here we share messages from figures in the UK vegan business scene: CEO of VFC and Meatless Farm, Dave Sparrow; Senior Brand Manager at OGGS, Joe Farrar; Co-Founder & CMO at Better Nature Tempeh, Elin Roberts; CEO of Citizen Kind, Emma Osborne;  and CEO of Miami Foods, Loui Blake.

Dave Sparrow, VFC: “Clear strategy”

Firstly, happy World Vegan Day to everyone!

Reflecting on the past 12 months it’s amazing to see the continued strength, innovation, commitment and mission behind the vegan market and observe all those involved in driving it forward. The past year has been tough and a tricky one to navigate across all of consumer goods, specifically food and drink. I think it’s easy to bypass the hugely positive and important impact that has been created within the vegan category given certain headlines this last year.

“The progress made throughout the last few years has been remarkable and one which we should be proud of”

However the progress made throughout the last few years has been remarkable and one which we should be proud of, that said it’s clear we have so much more to do, something which particularly motivates and excites me. Looking ahead to 2024 I don’t foresee a huge shift given the overall market backdrop and impact driven by all the challenges the consumer sector faces today.

Vegan fried chicken

That said, learning from constantly changing consumer habits and understanding that it isn’t a sprint but a marathon whilst meeting those needs is what remains integral – be that price, quality, convenience, brand values, and so on. Having a clear strategy around these principles while clearly having an eye on your business financials will enable continued and sustainable growth within a category which will only go on from strength to strength just possibly not at the same CAGR pace seen in previous years, while continuing to educate upon the benefits around health, planet and animal wellbeing will further enforce our objectives as a business.

Joe Farrar, Oggs: “Compete against animal products”

Heading into 2024 I think the biggest focus for the plant-based industry needs to be a switch towards seeing animal products as the competition, rather than other plant-based brands. When 10 different meat alt brands are all trying to persuade the same group of vegans to purchase them over another, no additional animals get saved. I think Quorn, Oatly and THIS have shown this mindset brilliantly this year, comparing their products to – and competing directly against – the comparable animal products.

Scrambled Eggs from OGGS

Elin Roberts, Better Nature: “Come together”

To answer your questions, I think the plant-based industry needs to do a few things in 2024.

Get to know our customers even better: what are they looking for from plant-based? What misconceptions do they have about plant-based food? Why are they still choosing meat, what is it offering that plant-based isn’t at the moment? Top-level trends like health and sustainability aren’t enough anymore, we need to get into the details and create products based on true customer insights.

Be focused and clear: I see too many plant-based brands trying to be everything to everyone and ending up being nothing to anyone. Most brands won’t be able to nail everything, and even if they did research tells us customers still need a clear and simple point of difference to remember them. So plant-based brands need to focus on what they’re excellent at and what customers genuinely want, and shape their strategy around that. Of course, there are hygiene factors, it can’t taste awful, but we don’t need to nail everything. No more sentences like “We’re the healthiest, most sustainable, most delicious” etc., please.

© Better Nature

Where can we really win? Embrace variety; there’s been so much debate about direct alternatives vs whole foods recently and while our products very much sit in the latter, I’m a huge proponent that what we need is variety. And for those options to be as brilliantly made and marketed as possible. Only then can we really compete with animal products.

Work together: There’s so much working against us, from government subsidies and tiny supermarket margins for animal products vs plant-based products, to media platforms that massively over-hype the decline in plant-based foods despite there being declines in industries across the board. It’s never been more important we come together as an industry, map out our priorities and work together to achieve them.

Emma Osborne, Citizen Kind: “Creativity”

The ferocity of attack from the meat and dairy lobby groups has been pretty successful in marrying protein replacements with “ultra-processed” foods. The efforts made to clean up product ingredient decks help to counteract these accusations so we now need to tell the story of how our products are the health and planet choices the conscientious consumer can feel good about.

© Citizen Kind

With climate on our side and the sense of urgency increasing, we need powerful storytelling to play every card we have to persuade the masses that the time to switch to plant-based is now!

Focusing on comparisons to the animal-based equivalents for climate footprint and health impacts along with messages around wildlife and biodiversity loss, water pollution and land use – big themes that support our mission – need to be used in marketing and advertising campaigns. Creativity beckons!

Loui Blake, Miami Foods: “A new wave”

For me, World Vegan Day affords an opportunity to reflect. The current economic landscape has meant the last 12 months have been difficult times for business generally. For plant-based businesses in particular we’ve seen growth slowing down. Companies have failed, investor capital has all but dried up, and big agriculture has begun the take the threat of plant-based seriously, co-ordinating PR efforts to challenge the mission at its core. This is overwhelmingly positive.

Loui Blake
© Loui Blake

There has been a clearing out of companies who simply were not good enough, a rejuvenated effort to improve, create and take a fresh approach, and a new sense of collaboration in tackling the major issues facing our sector, such as legislation around subsidies and labelling.

“I believe we’re entering a new wave. The best businesses, solving the biggest problems, are born in challenging times”

I believe we’re entering a new wave. The best businesses, solving the biggest problems, are born in challenging times. What do we need to do differently? Our approach needs to balance the immediate need to actualise our vision for the benefit of animals, people and planet, with the long-term patience and understanding that comes with growing a financially stable business. No more 10x valuations on thin air, running at negative margins in supermarkets for ”brand building” or promising investors world domination in 13 months.

Let’s get the best products in front of customers, not the ones that are best at raising money.

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