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Finding Your Voice In The Veg-Economy

by Orlaith Wood on 10/09/2020 | 5 Minute Read

The plant-based food boom is no longer just a trend to watch out for. Burger King's Rebel Whopper and Gregg’s vegan sausage roll brought meat-free into the mainstream, and veggie food brands continue to multiply on supermarket shelves. 

With competition growing, how can vegan and vegetarian brands stand out? Slapping a green leaf on your packaging won't cut it anymore, and a lot of the most successful players in the category use language to carve out a niche. 

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At Reed Words, we create brand voices—in other words, identifying and codifying what a brand says and how they say it. A distinctive brand voice cuts through the noise in an industry like plant-based foods, where lots of brands offer similar products. We know that every brand is shaped by its language as much as its visual design, and in the plant-based food industry, this is doubly true. Even something as foundational as the use of "plant-based" versus "vegan" sends completely different messages, and that’s before you even try wading into a conversation about flexitarianism. 

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Editorial photograph

As brands navigate conversations around health, ethics, politics, and trends that have defined plant-based diets for decades, they must consider how their language reflects and supports their customers’ lifestyles.

Let’s look at some of the most distinctive brand voice personas sprouting up in the veg-economy.

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The Maverick

Two of the more well-known vegan brands in the world, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, talk a pretty big game. But it’s not about replacing meat. It’s about "building meat from plants" and "taking everything we know and love about meat, and making it even better – using plants." What’s particularly great about these brands is that they manage to toe the line between advocating for a plant-based lifestyle without alienating meat-eaters. They’re inclusive without being generic; disruptive without being judgemental.

Impossible and Beyond have remarkably similar tones: ambitious, mission-focused, and a little bit cocky. As direct competitors, they would do well to push their voices in new, varied directions. That way, they can corner different sectors of the market.

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The Wholesome Hippy

Linda McCartney Foods embraces an old-school vegetarian vibe that harks back to its activist roots. A recent brand film by the company highlights its legacy while looking to the future, inviting customers to create a kinder world for their children.

It’s not quite knit-your-own-granola levels of hippie-dippie, but there’s a definite wholesomeness coming through in their "cool to be kind" voice. The target audience? Health-conscious parents, and, yes, Beatlemaniacs. 

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The Wacktivist

For better or worse, Swedish dairy-alternative brand Oatly is having a moment. Wacktivists like Oatly are unafraid of courting controversy with out-there copy-led ads. If you’ve seen the "Like milk but made for humans" campaign or read the long diatribes railing against the dairy industry on its cartons, you’ll know what I mean. It’s a classic Innocent-style, love-it-or-hate-it tone of voice. They must be doing something right: Oatly is currently valued at $2 billion

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The Health Hero

Quorn is the UK’s biggest vegetarian brand and a pioneer of the meat-substitute market. When it launched in the 1980s, it had to talk about what it wasn’t to get people to understand the product and convince them to buy it. You could say Quorn did the heavy lifting for disruptive new upstarts who don’t even need to mention the word ‘vegan’ on their packaging. But Quorn seems to have struggled to move away from talking about what they’re not. Their family-oriented ads tend to focus on being a healthy, climate-friendly alternative to meat. But language like "healthy protein for a healthy planet" risks sounding preachy and could alienate anyone who doesn’t necessarily choose non-meat options for the health benefits.

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The Meat Mocker

Swedish epic veggie eating brand Oumph borrows both its packaging design and product names from the meat world. From the butchers’ chalkboard style typography to the meat-inspired product names like The Chunk, Pulled Oumph, and Sticky Smokehouse Oumph, the Meat Mocker is clearly trying to tempt carnivores to cheat on meat. British startup THIS follows a similar line with their positioning. They claim to have a meat substitute so good you can “virtually eat meat without killing stuff.”

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The Flavour Savior

Even though the whole Wicked Kitchen range is vegan and plant-based, there’s no mention of either word on the front of their packs. The ready-to-eat food range, launched by Tesco and chef Derek Sarno, consistently focuses on flavor, and its products include Veggie Pasta & Amazeballs, All the Rage Rolls, and Smashin’ Pumpkin Wrap. By steering clear of preachy vegan stereotypes and putting tastiness front-and-center, they’re more likely to reach flexitarians.

The six companies we’ve looked at here are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the fast-growing veg-economy. The vegan food market was valued at $14.2 billion in 2018; by 2026, it could reach $31.4 billion

With this growth comes a rapidly diversifying market – which means it’s more important than ever for brands entering this space to think specifically about who they’re talking to, what is attracting that audience to a plant-based lifestyle, and why.

Brands that know their audience and find a voice to match will take home a bigger slice of the (meat-free) pie.