From Radical Fringe Food Movement To Foodie’s Delight: What Brands Can Learn From Veganism’s Makeover

by Emily Fox on 03/26/2020 | 5 Minute Read

Veganism, once discounted as the militant left-wing cousin of vegetarianism, has had an image refresh that could rival the transformations at Queer Eye

Its popularity, fuelled partly by the rise of a more conscious consumer, has seen choice expand and accessibility spill into the mainstream. No longer a fad for the strait-laced, veganism has broadened its appeal beyond ethics to the universal attraction of taste, health, style, and sustainability.

In the UK, popular pastry and bakery chain Greggs attributed its burgeoning sales to the successful launch of its vegan sausage roll, while high-end department store Selfridges claimed that its vegan confectionary range boosted its overall Christmas sales. Ethical veganism meanwhile is now protected in law for the first time, making it illegal to discriminate against anyone who upholds its philosophical beliefs. Fifteen years ago, if you were to mention "plant-based" to anyone, they might have gazed at you, head tilted marginally, and uttered a confused, "Huh?" Today, everyone from Mike Tyson to your relatives, are eating plant-based and revealing that they've shed pounds, dropped their cholesterol levels, and are living their best life.

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According to Google Trends, searches for “veganism” have been rising steadily since 2012 in a similar trajectory to Instagram. People cite one or more of three motives for going vegan-animal welfare, environmental concerns, and personal health. These drivers are catalyzing the growth of endless new business start-ups and brands, cookbooks, YouTube channels, food events, and polemical documentaries positioning veganism as the future of consumption on all levels—from food to lifestyle. But its exploding popularity doesn’t solely lend itself to a sudden awakening in consumers wanting ‘to do good’ simply through just eating and shopping better. Innovative products and creative brand designs have had a part to play in veganism’s radical repositioning, from rabbit fodder to culinary delight, insipid sandals to fashion-forward lines.

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Pickled veg brand, Wildbrine, has elements of the artisan embedded in its identity. It retains some of the classic vegan cues to its labels (e.g., green logos and a slightly hand-drawn style typeface nodding to a more natural provenance) yet has a more vibrant, edgy presence; gone are the days of beige. Where vegan brands once got marketed as being purer and cleaner yet devoid of personality, the category is, in fact, reaching a tipping point. New players entering the category are revitalizing the proposition with a focus on flavor and enhanced taste experiences full of personality. In the food aisle, veganism is even escalating into becoming a thing of culinary beauty, becoming as desirable and dirty as a proper guilty pleasure.

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Artisanal vegan cheese brand I Am Nut OK is a case in point, smashing the conventional perception that vegan cheese is plastic and fake in texture or taste. Unlike other brands which, through garish design and color, exude artificiality, I Am Nut OK is more sophisticated and pushes artisan-led design cues that allude to the careful production process, quality, and flavor. Using abstract illustrations and semi-serif typefaces, its chalkboard style identity gives a farmers market feel to it, married with a witty play on words on some of the products ("Oh Grate," "Smokeydokey," and "Foigeddaboutit"). 

The overall proposition seems both culinarily tantalizing, foodie, and authentic. It is a strong product design that is quietly confident about its vegan provenance. It entices people to “Shop our Not Cheeses,” but does not overexplain itself or patronize the consumer. Design has been used to articulate that its flavor and experience are the real draw here, making the message much more inclusive to all cheese aficionados, whether vegan or not.

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This spirit of inclusivity is also central to the ethos of The White Rabbit Alternative Pizza Co.  The brand was born in Oxford, where Matteo and Nick met while working at The White Rabbit Pub—Teo as chef and Nick behind the bar. From an early age, Teo had made pizza in his family’s restaurant in the Italian Alps. And in the Italian spirit of sharing pizza, Teo and Nick wanted to create a range of authentic free-from pizzas enjoyed by absolutely everyone. This inclusivity gets reflected in the branding and packaging—it does not look like a product just for those with particular nutritional needs and desires. The friendly graphics, quirky, non-food specific brand name, and hand-drawn type come together to present an appealing, crafted, and forward-thinking proposition. Whether celiac, vegan, or omnivore, this is a pizza for everyone to share.

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In beauty, MILK makeup’s entire vegan offering is contemporary and fashionable, on and off-pack, espousing an aspirational but inclusive aesthetic that includes real-life ambassadors to act as the canvas. These aren’t the stereotypical faces of old school veganism, but eclectic faces of youth, unconventionally beautiful, full of attitude, and, in areas, blurring the lines of binary gender definitions. Sleek, minimalist packaging emblazoned with an unapologetically bold typeface and the odd injection of color, feels almost utilitarian but allows for the quality to speak for itself.

Undeniably, veganism as a lifestyle and movement has evolved to become more desirable than ever before. In part, this is attributed to how some pioneering products get presented and positioned. These are not brands that preach, moralize, or judge, nor is veganism communicated as a commitment that requires restraint and personal sacrifice for the sake of ethics and well-being. Design has helped vegan products become a means of self-indulgence, self-care, and even a way in which to make a personal statement. Moving beyond the extreme and the fringe, veganism is beginning to resonate with many. Indeed, it may be the lifestyle of the future. 

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Veganism’s makeover and unstoppable take-up lend itself to the fact that the vegan traits have, in a sense, been underplayed, with greater emphasis given to taste, aesthetics, experience, and value. These are, after all, universal qualities that consumers look to, even above the principles of ethics and sustainability. In the meantime, brands can learn much from veganism’s radical rebrand that is increasingly changing how people consume. 

Tackle misconceptions, change the status quo and don’t be the norm. Be bold, brave, authentic, and unabashedly individual.

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