Meat-free brands must push consumer benefits to become truly mainstream

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Movements such as Meat Free Monday and the Five a Day fruit and vegetable campaign mean that most consumers today can identify with flexible vegetarianism.

It’s the ideal solution for those of us who aren’t inclined to fully commit to a life without the pleasures of juicy steak or comforting sausages, but would like to cut back our meat intake for many reasons.

According to exclusive data from Mintel, which appears in our trends feature in the magazine this week, 25% of people say those reasons are health related, while another 25% say it’s reducing their grocery bill that’s motivating them.

While Mintel predicts the meat-free and free from food market to grow by 44% to £1.25 billion by 2016, brands in this space face the conundrum of appealing to the masses or continuing to evangelise cause-based loyalists.

Just 4% say they consume meat-free products for environmental reasons, and while this might change in the future, it doesn’t indicate many lucrative opportunities to play to this audience.

But as Mintel’s Kiti Soininen notes, does making products more to the mainstream risk alienating the core base of early adopters that arguably should be rewarded for their loyalty?

The harsh reality is that brands need to achieve scale to also achieve longevity and financial success. The popularity of market-leading brands in this space, Quorn and Linda McCartney, highlights how appealing to a wider audience doesn’t have to mean selling out on your brand credentials.

Quorn has done well to position itself as a non-threatening meat alternative that can easily be substituted into the meals that make up most regular people’s dinner repertoire, such as lasagne and chili con carne.

Linda McCartney has gone down the foodie route, using gourmet ingredients such as cranberry and camembert, and even crowdsourcing new recipes.
Supermarket own brands are also adding products to this space, so newcomers who can’t embed themselves in the hearts and shopping baskets of every day consumers will unfortunately have a shorter shelf life than their products.

Part of this will be by employing mainstream brand strategies, such as celebrity endorsements, brand partnerships, and more effective in-store marketing, all of which are lacking in this space.

I know Hilton hotels have partnered with nutritionist Annabel Karmel to devise their children’s menus, with her involvement being highly publicised within the menu itself. I read a blog recently about most hotel vegetarian options still being limited to the clichéd mushroom risotto, so I think this could be a natural place for meat-free brands to move into.

Finally, there are two key stats from Mintel’s report that represent attitudes that meat-free brands need to address. 47% say they are put off meat-free products because they appear artificial, and 40% think meat-free food is boring.

Those attitudes represent a large, untapped consumer base. Opportunistic marketers take note.

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