Heinz has just announced its entry into the plant-based meat space with the launch of vegan burgers and mince.
I’m thrilled. This is great from an industry standpoint, and sees one of the heavyweights entering the fray. Heinz is a company with the distribution network to secure significant physical availability, and a gigantic advertising budget to secure what we in the brand and marketing world call “mental availability.”
Have we reached saturation?
In my opinion, however, we do not need another burger product in this category.
Join me on a little experiment: type “vegan burger” into Ocado’s search right now. At the time of writing, it returns 49 results. Type “beef burger” into Ocado’s search, and it returns only 32 products… some of which are vegan burgers.
Oh, and some of these are actually dog treats.
The point is: there are a staggering number of vegan burgers, and this space is massively oversaturated.
A saturated market is a dangerous space to play in. Generally, there are only two ways to compete – grow the market itself, or steal market share from others.
The present over-saturation of the vegan burger space is a problem for three reasons:
1. The biggest advertising budgets will win
There is little product innovation. How does a brand best compete when it’s entering a cluttered space? ESOV, or Excess Share of Voice. That means advertising. Above the line and below the line. And that’s expensive, especially for smaller brands.
I have no doubt Heinz can pony up the bills required to support its new product, but it benefits from brand recognizability too. Therefore the smaller brands are going to be culled.
2. It could support the “decline of veganism” narrative
As those smaller brands collapse, the media will jump on this and continue its narrative around the plant-based space dying out. Momentum has stopped, they’ll say. Growth is in decline. I don’t believe this is true, and there’s a lot of room to grow veganism and plant-based – but shoppers aren’t prepared to buy 17 different vegan burgers every week.
3. Market growth stagnates
Brands are scrapping over the same small space, and failing to create new markets. It’s a tale as old as time – but it’s unwise to compete over market share when you can command market growth.
We know that consumer values that turn people toward more plant-based eating are only rising – health, sustainability concerns, animal welfare. But brands are often doing little to help people to “Cross the Chasm.” Consumers want to see products that help them transition, but people don’t solely eat burgers.
How to grow the market
The single best thing FMCG brands can be doing right now is to make it easier for people to try plant-based foods. That means enticing customers with new products, and making them as easy to obtain as possible.
Create something unique. Build a space. Be the plant-based pancetta. The vegan venison. The meatless mackerel. The herbivore’s ham. Aim for excellence within your product space. Reverse engineer what meats and animal products people love, and focus your energy there. Just don’t do another bleeding burger. We’ve got enough.
Build your brand
Create emotion and feeling around what you do, and carve out mental availability in the mind of the consumer. The faster your logo triggers recognition in the consumer, the sooner they will purchase your product. Shoppers often make decisions in seconds. You must be more than simply a product on a shelf to stand out – the space is too saturated for that.
Grow your distribution
This is the concept of physical availability again. Even with the best marketing in the world, food brands are tangible products which need to be picked up in store, enjoyed in a restaurant, or ordered for home delivery. The simpler it is for a consumer to add your product to their weekly shopping basket, and not go out of their way, the more your brand will grow.
Much of this is the classic marketing theory of differentiation. Simple in theory, complex in action. Ten years ago, a vegan burger was a delightfully differentiated option. Today, it’s the vegan burger brands that need to differentiate themselves.
There are some brands that are already getting this right. Take inspiration from a few of the following:
VFC is listed for both brilliant product focus and nailing the brand building. This is a brand solely focused on veganizing the fried chicken category, and the brand is bold, distinctive and impactful.
For single-mindedly tackling bacon – the last bastion of the meat lover. LA VIE knows the space it wants to play in, and it is extremely focused on being the best of the best when it comes to bacon.
One Planet Pizza and Purezza
Both of these companies are making plant-based pizza happen. OPP is focused on being the lead FMCG brand in the frozen pizza category, while Purezza is tackling the niche of Neapolitan pizza.
LoveRaw has been on this journey over the last few years, dropping its product lines and becoming hyper-focused on game-changingly good dairy-free chocolate with more than a subtle wink to some classic dairy chocolate brands.
It’s also just got itself onto the Tesco Meal Deal package, really cementing its accessibility to consumers.
Shicken is less widely available than most of the others mentioned above, but this is one to watch. It has crafted a product range that’s authentic to classic Indian cuisine. This company is going places.
There are, of course, many others – too many to list here. But if your idea of innovation is another burger than please, please go back to the drawing board. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.