After 17 years at Danone, Romain Jolivet landed at what was then called 77 Foods, and went on to become the marketing extraordinaire behind the pioneering French vegan pork brand we now know as La Vie.
Less than two years later, La Vie’s bright and bold advertising campaigns have brought the game-changing bacon onto shelves around Europe and onto mainstream menus in several food service locations, famously including Burger King amongst many others.
We were excited to finally catch up with Romain, who says of the disruptive advertising: “…our “competitor”, the meat industry, is a giant against whom we cannot fight without being bold and accepting taking some risks.”
First of all congratulations on a phenomenal first year or so of business – what an incredibly busy time and what phenomenal growth in a short time!
Thank you for noticing!
It is indeed hard to believe that we first introduced the brand to the people only just over a year ago. La Vie is now present in France, the UK, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, being the same over-indulging, over-entertaining character in four different languages. What a ride, and this is only the beginning.
Can you give us La Vie’s elevator pitch? How did you get started and why?!
Elevator pitches depend on the number of floors we are riding of course, but the simplest way of introducing La Vie is to describe it as “the UFO of plant-based”. La Vie shares the same mission as most plant-based meat brands: make people switch from animal to plant, as fast as possible. What makes us different is that we have decided to anchor the brand fully into entertainment and indulgence, keeping it far away from the rather functional codes of the category.
“…we are […] the only brand in the world to have managed to reproduce bacon”
We did it firstly because we can; we are after all the only brand in the world to have managed to reproduce bacon, one of the most indulging products in the food industry worldwide, entirely from plants. Secondly, because we are convinced that it is much easier to change habits when the new habit is actually cooler than the previous one!
What is the secret to the success of this vegan bacon, in terms of the product itself – what makes La Vie bacon unique?
The secret lies in technology. We have a unique talent of fundamental researchers that managed to create a couple of technological building blocks that the entire industry, including very big food names, have tried to replicate.
In such a simple product, three different protected technologies are in use: the recreation of a plant-based fat that cooks exactly like the real thing, the recreation of a lean without any texturing agent that perfectly mimics the bite and juiciness of pork, and the adhesion between the fat and lean.
These technologies not only allow us to be the first brand in the world to reach taste parity vs pork in two different certified studies, including amongst French pork bacon consumers (trust me, a tough audience), but also to do so with… seven ingredients only!
And in terms of retail – what is the secret behind your hugely successful retail expansion strategy?
The smile of my sales colleague, Virginie Preseguer, and her team, who are amazing.
Also our focus on some core hero products, which are different from anything else on the market. We have a portfolio strategy that is really about introducing to the market only a couple of genuine game changers.
We don’t release any product before reaching taste parity over the leading and most tasty animal meat in retail. So although we are slower than many other companies, we deliver products so tasty that they are literally flying off the shelves.
This segues to the next question: we can’t talk about La Vie without talking about your provocative advertising. What has been the overall reaction to these, at times controversial, campaigns? We saw one negative reaction regarding the ad that relates to housing, which did ruffle some feathers: what’s your response and is controversy an important part of raising awareness, of both brand and plant-based?
La Vie is a quirky, entertaining and inviting character that wants to provoke emotions and reactions, instead of people. Everything we have to do and have to say to make more people switch to plant-based, we always say it with a quirky tone of voice, that sometimes can break some conventions.
“…that kind of communication is not going to please everyone, but we prefer to be loved by some, than liked by everyone”
This is the case of our latest global campaign “a jew, a vegan, a meat lover and a muslim walk into a bar and share a bacon sandwich. No joke”. This is just an ad about an untold amazing benefit of the new generation of plant-based meat; everyone can gather around it and enjoy it! Of course, that kind of communication is not going to please everyone, but we prefer to be loved by some, than liked by everyone.
It is also a reality that our “competitor”, the meat industry, is a giant against whom we cannot fight without being bold and accepting taking some risks.
So far, the results are outstanding, both in terms of consumer response, awareness and image.
Tell us about your BK partnership and your vision and purpose for this – who are you targeting here – is this for the flexitarian / veg-curious?
The purpose is to accelerate the pace of switching, and to showcase that plant-based food can be as enjoyable – or even better – than animal-based food.
We are partnering with Burger King, and some major other leading restaurant brands soon to be announced to show the world, and especially the younger generations, that you can switch to plant-based with a big smile on your face (and a bit of grease at your fingertips).
In which countries are La Vie products currently available? And where will you expand to next – we understand there is a US expansion on the cards?
La Vie is available in France, the UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany. We are in the process of starting discussions with some USA-based restaurant chains to seed our launch there and assess our model.
“We are in the process of starting discussions with some USA-based restaurant chain”
We went to a national trade show in Atlanta last year to introduce La Vie to the people there and the welcome that we received was amazing with thousands of people literally queuing to try it and see “la vie en rose”.
What is in the pipeline for 2023? Will you continue in the PB pork products category?
We have a small pig obsession indeed. Firstly because it is, in volume, 45% of the global meat consumption. Also because it is a brilliant animal, that would deserve something else than intensive farming, and finally because reproducing pork meat is extremely complex, and we have a technological edge there that is adding massive value to the category worldwide.
What is your company mission?
To make people switch to plant-based with a massive smile on their face (and the greasy fingers, remember?)
Where do you see La Vie in five years?
We see La Vie becoming the largest pork brand in the world, without touching a single pig. How cool would that be for the animals, the biodiversity, and us as a species?