In the “Deep Dive” format, experts from the Mediaplus Group immerse themselves in the world of marketing trends and provide in-depth insights into current challenges: how can new trends be categorized socially and economically, and how can problems be addressed with an interdisciplinary approach? Magnus Gebauer, Senior Consultant at Mediaplus, sheds light on this with his contribution to the Beyond Meat trend.

Brand communication to meet the growing appetite for plant-based products

I tried my best: that is all I can say about my feeble attempt to get my hands on a packet of the coveted Beyond Meat burgers from my local discounter. Within the first ten minutes of the shop opening its doors, every last one of the much-hyped burger patties had sold out. And then there is the Californian food producer’s sensational stock market launch, which chalked up gains of up to 600 percent on occasion. Why is that? Although the number of vegans has increased in recent years, there are barely a million in Germany.

Shift in values is changing consumer behaviour and media planning

A closer look soon reveals that the new vegan products are geared towards a far broader target group than the gaunt vegan stereotypes of the 1990s. They are designed for the mainstream and are driven by three major values-based consumption trends:

  1. The current fitness and health trend: Meat substitute products are seen as being healthier because they contain no cholesterol and less unsaturated fatty acids.
  2. There is a growing wish among consumers for better environmental protection and animal-based food production is very energy-intensive.
  3. Following the animal and meat scandals of recent years, more and more consumers are calling for better animal welfare.

Looking at these developments from a media perspective, it once again becomes clear that traditional target group selection based on sociodemographic attributes is not the way to go. Vegan-oriented consumer groups are bound together more closely by shared values and motives than by age or gender – which is exactly where psychographic targeting comes in, offering a more intelligent solution for values-based customer communication. Psychographics is an approach that stems from personality psychology and that deals with the motives of human actions. Psychographic targeting activities take traditional target group descriptions to the next level, adding profiles on motives, attitudes and personality traits. By drawing on psychographics, new media planning approaches are more effective, as the target group’s values must also tie in with the various advertising environments. Which helps to pinpoint those environments that fit perfectly with the brand or product.

Mainstream messages and relevant campaign strategies

The sudden unprecedented boom in this area – in spite of the fact that meat-free alternatives have already been on the market for quite some time – can be attributed on the one hand to the mass-market taste experience and, on the other, to the different, more active marketing of the products in question. Product communication for the meat-free hamburgers is not aimed at vegans and vegetarians but is geared squarely towards lovers of meat and fast food.

“The only consumer we care about is the hardcore meat lover”: interestingly enough, this sentence has become something of a mantra for Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown, one of Beyond Meat’s main competitors. By his own account, the company founder does not see vegetarian and vegan consumers as his most relevant consumer group. This makes more sense when you consider that his company supplies Burger King with the patties for its vegan Impossible Whopper, and that Burger King advertises its vegan product as being indistinguishable from the original Whopper with regard to taste.

Similarly, the message sent by McDonald’s national advertising video launching its own vegan burger (“Believe it or not: tastes great for everyone – not just idealists. The new Big Vegan TS”) illustrates which target group it has in its crosshairs. Here, McDonald’s is playing with the hackneyed contrast between environmental activist and lumberjack – reconciliation being ultimately achieved in the form of a burger. The message that is to remain with consumers is clear: meat-free burgers are not just for starry-eyed idealist chicks, but for everyone.

British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s has opted for a somewhat different marketing strategy. As part of World Meat-Free Week, it opened up a meat-free pop-up butcher’s shop to demonstrate to customers how to cook with the plant-based meat alternatives sold at Sainsbury’s – while, it can be safely assumed, securing extensive media coverage with this unique campaign. This illustrates above all the importance of having a well thought-out campaign strategy that zones in cleverly on consumer trends, while both engaging customers and providing added value for them. After all, in times where consumers are bombarded with countless one-size-fits-all advertising messages, contextual relevance is the key to grabbing their attention and, in turn, is the basis for a successful marketing campaign.

Is the interest in vegan issues subsiding again? 

Looking at the recent hype regarding Beyond Meat with the benefit of a little hindsight, there is no denying that media interest has cooled off somewhat. However, given the clear shift in values, it would be a mistake to assume that plant-based products have had their moment in the sun. The abundance of vegan alternatives – not only food, but also anything from shoes to cosmetics – will continue to make waves as long as brands serve major consumer trends adroitly while gearing their communication strategies to changing values, leaving past stereotypes behind. With psychographic targeting, media planning has the right solution at the ready.