Written by Dominique Rock

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Gordon Ramsay broke the internet with three words: “I’m turning vegan”.  Was he really succumbing to the joys of the plant after all these years?!

Well, kinda, sorta, not really… at the very end of the TikTok in question, Ramsay reveals he’s embracing the #flexitarianlife by “turning vegan for lunch”.

Oh Gordon, you little sweary little Scottish rascal, you had me and 16.5m+ others going there for a hot minute…

But then, as a consciously-part-time-vegan-ish-some-days-type-of-gal myself, it got me thinking … in this day and age is going 100% plant-based or meat-free, be it for a meal, day or lifetime, really such a big deal?

I mean, yep granted, I totally get that Gordan Ramsay is a celebrated chef and therefore isn’t your average Joe Bloggs. But if Gordon were to turn vegan full time – isn’t that just more evidence of our growing appetite for change.

The data is clear:

  • Kantar says 92% of the UK’s plant-based meals, are consumed by the UK’s 22 million flexitarians like me – not strict orthodox vegans.
  • In the UK, sales of plant-based foods broke through the £1bn sales barrier last year, with 13 million shoppers buying meat-free substitutes and alt-milk.
  • And despite the hardship of lockdown, nearly 600,000 people around the world attempted Veganuary this year, that’s 200k more than in 2020… or a 50% yoy increase.

And brands and retailers alike have taken notice.

Tesco recently announced its goal to increase sales of plant-based meat alternatives by 300% by 2025; Unilever is setting a €1bn plant-based sales target for 2025; and PepsiCo has announced a partnership with Beyond Meat (AKA the Tesla of meat substitutes), to create a line of vegan-based snacks and drinks, with whisperings of deals with McDonald’s, (hey McPlant Burger), and other fast-food chains also in the pipeline.

The meat-less market is flourishing. And fast. From beer to beauty, Gen-Z to Gen-Y, working class to upper class, more and more of us are consciously or subconsciously turning to the #plantbasedlife, be it just for a meal like Gordon Ramsay, or on a more consistent basis.

And for us marketers this type of broad appeal can presents its own unique challenges.

Research suggests that words like ‘vegan’ and ‘plant-based’ can have a negative effect on sales. With reports showing that 35% of people saying those words make a product seem less appealing.

The term ‘meat free’ was also found to have negative connotations, because it suggests that something is lacking rather than evoking an appealing product. And the proof is in the pudding, with studies finding that when Sainsbury’s changed the name of one of its products from ‘Meat-Free Sausage and Mash’ to ‘Cumberland-Spiced Veggie Sausage & Mash’, sales increased by 76%.

Beyond ‘the language of plants’, Asda has introduced dedicated bays for plant-based products in all of its stores since the start of the year, there’s the wider question of placement to think about. To segregate or to integrate – now that is the question.

The IGD found that when vegetarian options were placed in different aisles in stores or in dedicated sections of a menu, ordering rates and sales of meat-free products were reduced by as much as 56%. This was also seen in Pret, with having “veggie only” refrigerators seeing lower sales compared to integrating products.

Suggesting, that a broad one-size-fits-all ‘meat-eaters corner’ vs ‘designed for vegetarians’ brush stroke is a label that lots of us don’t associate with. And in a mixed world of 100%-plant-based-for-lifers, meat-free-some-days and if-it-sounds-good I’ll-take-it-ers, regardless of its composition, to me that makes total sense.

When I pop out to my local Tesco or sit down for a meal inside restaurant (roll on May 17th!), we have to make a decision from a hell of a lot of choices and it’s easy to discard an entire section as ‘not for me’ to make the decision process easier.

Mixing in plant-based options and giving them prime positioning alongside other items allows the meal to shine rather than a vegan categorisation and would encourage more consideration from those who do not typically eat plant-based.

The one exception however for retailers is when plant-based is the key pull. IGD found that whilst veggie fridges didn’t work in Pret, dedicated Veggie Pret stores did.

The first Veggie Pret opened as a back in 2016, five years later and there are now 10 stores in operation, and a goal to open another 90. It seems that a store dedicated to segregation can help to create excitement and relevance – especially in London and Manchester, where plant-based diets are popular.

Does this fit the trend bucket more than normalising plant-based diets?  It’s hard to know… but one thing is for sure, when it comes to selling vegan, there’s a lot of plant food for thought.

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