The options for meat alternatives have been pretty bleak up until the past few years. With soy based products like Tofurkey and Garden Burger dominating the market, those who adhered to plant based diets were typically better off making their protein substitutions from scratch.
Today, an increasing percentage of consumers (as many as 120 million in the US, according to Food Business News) have begun to reduce their intake of animal byproducts in a way of eating dubbed “flexitarian”, or semi-vegetarianism. After Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma (summarized by the simple message of “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”) became widely considered, many started seeing the merit in eating less meat – without having to sacrifice it completely. This rising consumer base has contributed to the growing availability of “meatless meat”. But for companies aiming to reach the flexitarian demographic, positioning is everything.
Many meat substitutes are geared toward vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, and thus can carry strong political views ingrained in their brand stories. Whether coming from a position of care for the environment or ethical treatment of animals, meat alternative companies often resonate solely with a vegan or vegetarian consumer base.
Beyond Meat has become a heralded meat alternative brand. The packaging implies that it is a complete replacement for meat, by using striking imagery, like shapes of animals such as cows and chickens filled with vegetables. Their mission statement leans heavily on human health, positively impacting climate change, and animal welfare. The brand speaks of itself as a radical way to impact the world with your dietary choices. This kind of positioning can be polarizing to the consumer who is not committed to completely replacing the animal products in their life.
Upton’s Naturals has revolutionized jackfruit as a meat substitute whose consistency is often compared to pulled pork. However, the packaging can leave unfamiliar consumers confused about how it may be integrated into a meal. With the illustration of a regal, mustached man and a window to display the product inside, it speaks to a demographic who may be more familiar with cooking meat alternatives. It’s a brand that leans into the veg lifestyle, stating that “it’s not a substitute, it’s real food.” The tag #dontmissmeat circulates on their social media platforms for their customer base to share how meat no longer has any place on their plates.
So how are meat alternative brands appealing to the omnivorous demographic? Generally, it begins by providing some context.
Gardein does so by featuring appetizing food photography on package. This approach of exemplifying how the product can make a meal (beefless bourguignon, mandarin orange chick’n and crabless cakes to name a few) helps this brand fit right in with conventional frozen meals – which is comforting. Sans politically charged statements, it’s simply “a delicious, convenient, and versatile option for everyone… Healthier versions of the food people love to eat.”
That isn’t to say that a brand story can’t play a major role in the meat-free category. Field Roast is steeped in tradition, combining ancient Asian grain meat recipes with European flavors for an innovative fusion. The products are packaged in a very similar way to conventional meat products like sausages, burgers and deli meats. Only upon closer inspection can one read the verbiage that declares the product “Vegan”. With social media promotions like “Meatless Monday Night Football”, the brand is positioned to be a food that the average consumer can feasibly integrate into everyday life.
The growth in new meat alternative products is being driven by a consumer demand to eat less meat overall. It’s a quickly growing category, providing innovations beyond the legume dominant options that consumers were once restricted to. Ingredients, flavors, and varieties of food are expanding accommodate this dietary shift. Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or just a sometimes vegetarian, it’s an exciting time for plant based foods.
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