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Planting the Future for Brands: Is It Plant Way or the Highway?
Marketing & PR
London, United Kingdom
Porter Novelli’s Emma Fenny looks at Veganuary and the importance of how veganism isn't just about animal welfare but also about a creating a more sustainable way to farm, live and help the planet

Five years ago, if you advised brands that innovation would be in vegan products, 99.9% would, most likely, have laughed you out of the room. But times are a changing and 2022 has seen brands amping up their plant-based game. Is it time for brands to hitch onto the bandwagon or risk being left behind? 

Gone are the days of veganism being restrictive and alienating. Like it or not, vegan products from food to beauty to footwear are here to stay. As a vegan-gelist, I for one am delighted that I cottoned on to the movement just as brands such as M&S believed it was the time to act.  Its 2019 launch of the ‘Plant Kitchen’ range to critical acclaim caused others to follow. Almost overnight we saw the introduction of plant-based alternatives and vegan options on every menu, making going vegan almost annoyingly easy to maintain. 

Fast forward three years and Veganuary has since become a moment in time for brands to launch their latest offerings to make plant based more pleasurable. But beyond delighting dedicated followers, new converts and the curious, brands’ commitment to vegan-ovation is a potential commercial and perception goldmine. Remember the Gregg’s vegan sausage roll? Think that story is old news? Think again. 

The commercials of the activation spoke for themselves, and certainly will have kept stakeholders smiling like the cat that has got the plant substitute cream. More significantly, it helped change brand perception. Yes, Gregg’s is still seen as the provider of delicious pastry, but the vegan sausage roll transformed them into a brand known and looked to for innovation, especially in the plant-based sphere.  For a company that based itself on meat products, that is no mean feat.  

Gregg’s CEO stood down last week, with the media taking a moment to reflect on his achievements: the Evening Standard enthused ‘time to raise your vegan sausage roll to Roger Whiteside, who will surely go down as one of the best FTSE CEOs of the last decade,’ showing that a simple innovation plus cultural vision equals long term consumer and media love, a great example of ‘brand-led success’. Whenever something is written about Gregg’s they bring up that story, also known as, PR gold. 

With profits over purpose becoming less palatable, the vegan movement is an area that lends itself to ticking both the purpose AND profits box, showing you may, in fact, be able to have it all, or at least not have to sacrifice one for the other. 

Veganism is not just about food or animal cruelty. Forgive me for sounding evangelical, it is about embracing a different way of living that can help develop a more sustainable and harmonious planet.  Sound idealistic? Maybe, but practically we know that reducing the consumption of animal products is one of the best things for the planet (cited in the recent National Food Strategy Report July 2021). This isn’t new, but the wealth of opportunity for vegan-ovation is. 

Sustainability and veganism are natural bedfellows and embracing the evolution of the world we are living in enables brands to futureproof their audience and safeguard against becoming out of touch, and therefore, out of mind.  Burger King’s, launch of vegan nuggets and pledge to be 50% plant based by 2030 is a clear move by the company to guard against becoming redundant in a world that is almost unrecognisable to the one its brand was born in. More importantly this is a prime example of using vegan-ovation to map the gap between brand position and consumer perception, which, as the Gregg’s model shows, can result in deeper affiliation and intent to purchase. We will be watching BK’s figures beyond the coverage with eagle eyes, and I am eagerly awaiting my first Burger King in 10 years.  

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