Market & Trends

The Meat Industry is Playing to Win. Here’s How Plant-Based Brands Can Steal Their Playbook!

If you are selling plant-based or vegan food products, particularly vegan proteins, you will certainly be keeping an eye on the strategies that the animal protein industries are using to maintain their market share. 

In The Power of Meat 2020, an annual survey of shopper habits offered through the Food Industry Association, the researchers illuminate Big Meat’s strategies by zeroing in on the issue at hand: in 2015, 82% of shoppers said that animal-based meat belongs in a balanced diet but that number had declined to 64% in 2020. Why? 

The report suggests that there has been an erosion in the favorability and permissibility of animal-based meat. The rest of the report offers explanations for this erosion and ways for Big Meat to win back customers.

A report like this one gives plant-based brands the opportunity to steal the competitive playbook and win the game. Winning for plant-based brands is understanding what “favorability” and “permissibility” are, identifying the ways that Big Meat is using these strategies, and then employing them with shoppers in a more competitive way to gain the upper hand.

Let’s start with understanding these two strategies Big Meat is using. 

Favorability is how much a shopper likes your product and prefers it to other alternatives. And permissibility is whether a shopper will allow this product into her cart, into her home and into her life. 

When used successfully, they work together as a “one-two punch”: shoppers express favorability based on a product’s rational attributes, and permissibility based on a product’s emotional benefits.

For example, if a flexitarian shopper is considering burger options, and has a willingness to explore plant-based options, she might start by comparing rational product attributes: the quality of ingredients, the price point, and the convenience/ease of use of both the animal-based ground beef and the plant-based burgers.  

supermarket trolley
© Юлия Завалишина

This comparison of rational product attributes will produce a favorability score for both products.

Then she filters that favorability score with any existing brand perceptions and she asks herself how she feels about buying both of these products. This comparison of emotional benefits creates a permissibility score for both products.

The problem is that Big Meat has gotten quite creative and crafty in order to win on favorability and permissibility, especially in Europe but increasingly in the US. 

In the above shopper example, even if her favorability score for the plant-based burgers was relatively high based on the quality of ingredients and the convenience of pre-cut burgers, the animal-based meat scores more permissibility points by assuring her that the animal-based meat comes from a humane certified farm, it’s produced by a friendly local farmer, it’s organic, and comes in biodegradable packaging. Her guilt over buying the animal-based meat is eroded by the feeling that she is making a safe choice, a caring choice, and a healthy choice.

© Вячеслав Думчев

You can see that Big Meat is using these strategies of favorability and permissibility to tap into both shoppers’ rational and emotional sides. 

The question is: how can you, as a plant-based or vegan brand, increase your favorability and permissibility with shoppers? 

Here are some exercises that I’ve found helpful when working with clients in order to drive these strategies:

Brand at its Best: 

List your rational attributes that make you favorable:

Why do your brand fans love you?

What makes them prefer you to competitive products, especially the animal-based competition?
What are the unique qualities (in marketing jargon, reasons to believe) that keep them repurchasing the product? 

This list should be relatively easy to develop, as it is the rational product attributes that helped you decide to launch your product in the first place. 

If you are finding it difficult to ascertain what truly makes your product competitive, that is a signal that you need additional shopper feedback.

Before/After Transformation:

Put yourself in several of your first-time shoppers’ shoes. Imagine that they used to be heavy users of the animal-based competitive product but for the last 30 days, they have switched and exclusively eaten your product instead. (Think Super Size Me in reverse).

Ask yourself about the transformation these shoppers experienced: 

What was their life like before using your products? How did they feel physically and emotionally? What mattered to them?

What did they begin to notice during those 30 days? What started shifting for them?

How do they feel afterwards, physically and emotionally? What do they tell their friends? How do they think about themselves? What matters to them now?

organic shop
© YakobchukOlena –

Defining Shopper Benefits:

Go back to your attribute list and transform each of these attributes into true shopper benefits based on the before/after transformation: 

Why does this attribute matter to my shoppers? 

What makes it meaningful in their lives? 

What would their lives be like if my product disappeared off the shelf tomorrow?

Once you go through these exercises, you should have a differentiated, compelling and relevant communications strategy that you can use across all of your shopper touchpoints.

And what’s more, the meaning that you infuse into these communications will help define you as a brand, not simply a set of products.

A powerful brand can surely beat an eroding industry. So steal Big Meat’s playbook, create your own, and play to win! 


About Rachel Cook

Rachel Cook is the founder of The Kinder Way. She is a brand strategist, consumer intelligence expert, and data storyteller who brings decades of experience in the corporate sector to accelerate the growth of the vegan and plant-based industry

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