Vegan, vegetarian and free-from are driving phenomenal growth in the UK grocery sector, but fresh and current brands need to work harder than ever to stand out in this innovative market.
Over 6% of the UK population and 22% of the world population are vegetarian (2022). Last year, almost 600 thousand people pledged to go vegan for a month accelerating the sector significantly – in 2019, the UK launched more vegan, vegetarian and free-from grocery products than any other country.
Small wonder then that the category is quickly filling up with brands looking to cash in on the latest trend. And the fact that a third of the consumers driving this shift are millennials, the fastest-growing consumer demographic, is no coincidence.
What do we think of when we hear the words ‘vegan’, ‘vegetarian’ or ‘free-from’? Most people imagine tasteless rabbit food, preachy health-obsessed brands, and lifeless packaging.
As lifestyles evolve, this sector has been flooded with new products – most of them sadly lacking in a solid brand story or innovative design. But, with competition for this growing category increasing by the day, churning out predictable packaging just won’t do.
To make a real success of this eco-friendly, plant-based, cruelty-free boom, brands need to leave their comfy health food niche behind. An attention-grabbing widespread appeal is the aim of the game.
Brand focus: Oatly
Oatly is the poster child for vegan challenger brands. Heck, all challenger brands. This is one milk alternative not afraid to shake things up.
Fortune favours the bold. Oatly’s success story proves that maximum shelf-impact and ballsy brand packaging is a recipe for astronomic growth.
- For 20 years, Oatly struggles to gain traction outside their native Sweden. Their packaging is corporate and boring with little to no standout on the shelf.
- In 2012, Oatly appoints new Creative Director John Schoolcraft to reposition its brand and messaging.
- Oatly launches their new packaging in 2014 – their central pour, colour scheme, naive graphics and controversial copy grab headlines and customer attention.
- By targeting a wider audience, Oatly’s revenue grows from £1.2 million to more than £11 million between 2017 and 2018. Stockists have expanded to over 5,000 supermarkets in 2019. Oatly is currently building four new factories to keep up with demand.
Expert insight: John Schoolcraft, Oatly Creative Director
“Usually, in the food industry, any change whatsoever made to the packaging would make the company very nervous that sales would dip. Brands will make slight tweaks so customers don’t get confused and the result is no one notices. We approached it differently, we just threw the old packaging out completely and were prepared to take the hit.”
Brand focus: Oumph!
With packaging like this, you’d never accuse Oumph! of fading into the background. Their Epic Veggie Eating stance makes for some pretty tasty sales too.
Passive branding won’t cut it in this increasingly competitive category. Oumph! may be vegan, but they’re not afraid to smack you between the eyes.
- Oumph! Is making noise in the British retail sector with its bean-based product. Created from sustainably farmed soybeans, its eco-friendly production, flavour choice and unique texture have all proved popular with UK shoppers.
- There’s something almost punk about the scrawled writing (inspired by chalkboard scribbles and hipster food-truck style) and unapologetic exclamation marks. At first glance, it’s clear that Oumph! understand their target audience of eco-conscious millennials and Gen-Zs.
- On-pack product photography sizzles temptingly – tapping into trend predictions around ‘masculine food’. Traditionally a male-dominated niche, staunch carnivores might be tempted by Oumph!’s confident, dramatic black and white pack – rarely seen in frozen food.
Expert insight: Henrik Åkerman, Oumph! Marketing Director
“The vegan food market is becoming increasingly competitive, and that is a good thing. We need more and better products on the shelves in order to attract more people into the category…We don’t believe this is just a trend that will blow over – it is a real change in our food consumption and behaviour.”
KNOCK THE NICHE!
It’s clear to see the potential and opportunity the vegan/free-from category brings FMCG brands. With more and more supermarkets creating their own ranges and innovative brands like Oatly and Oumph! giving great shelf stand-out, the evidence is overwhelming. This is a powerful trend that’s here to stay.
But how do you create a brand strong enough to catapult out of the luxury or health-food niche? So many vegan/free-from brands get stuck there, so what do the brands that make it in the mainstream have that they don’t?
The format is clear:
Distinguish your brand from your bland, safe competition. Push your personality on your packaging to stand out from the crowd. Do this, and you can win the big multiples, as well as the hearts and minds of your customers.
TOP 3 INGREDIENTS TO MAKE YOUR BRAND STAND OUT
- 1. Be brave and go against industry conventions
- 2. Be bold in your messaging
- 3. Just because it’s healthy, doesn’t mean you can’t have a sense of humour. Everyone loves a little fun!
In our case study, we explore LoveGunn’s work with Jealous Sweets – transforming them from a high-end gift to an everyday treat.
Case study: Jealous Sweets
Vegan jelly confectioners Jealous Sweets were well established in the London vegan community through high sales at Harrods and Selfridges.
By positioning themselves as a luxury treat, however, they had unwillingly restricted their audience to consumers with more spending power.
Jealous Sweets approached LoveGunn with the challenge of entering national supermarkets. To add new widespread shelf-appeal and standout visibility, we created a bold, contemporary and playful brand.
The results captured the imagination of our millennial audience, multiples and independents the world over, allowing Jealous Sweets to stand out and start disrupting the confectionery space. But it wasn’t just a superficial change – it also supported the brand’s goal to make the consumer a hero, taking on the confectionery giants.
Our re-positioning has helped Jealous Sweets transition from a luxury gift to an everyday treat – dramatically increasing sales.
Expert Insight: What’s driving the growth of the vegan food space?
Imran Merza, Candy Magician & Co-Founder at Jealous Sweets
“We think it’s great that the category for vegan, veggie and free-from is growing, especially now that the quality of the products is way better than when categories started. Better for you food isn’t going away either. People have realised that the big food corporations have been serving us inferior quality food with lots of gunk and junk. In this transparent world, consumers won’t stand for this bulls**t anymore. We want to bring home the message that we make our sweets ’Without Melted Pigs’ or any other nasties.
To stand out, I think you need to have a badass quality product, distinctive packaging, and a brand story that resonates with consumers. We decided to work with LoveGunn because they are hungry, dynamic and we shared good chemistry with them. They got our vibe right away. We only work with people that we trust and that we like to think of as friends, and these guys fit that perfectly. “
Peter Ahye, Founder at Freaks of Nature
“More and more people want better quality, higher welfare food. They want to understand where things come from and remove the nasties. The increase in allergen awareness has also made people more aware of the food choices they have to make. And the rise and rise of the flexitarian means people want the best of both worlds. With the additional insights into health, sustainability, environmental and animal welfare, the future will have a large plant-based element to it.
Many will not be able to scale to the bigger opportunities that exist, but local and smaller businesses are needed to drive innovation and choice. Consumers deserve honesty – we’re not here to fight with the dairy industry but to give people great choices.
Freaks have doubled their revenues this year and expect to treble or even quadruple over the next 12 months. We will continue to grow our retailer presence, expand further into foodservice with our puddings.”