Plant-based food brands will soon be growing exponentially in number. Nearly every week we hear about another startup that has landed major venture capital investment. $8 million for Daring Foods. $10 million for Sol Cuisine. $12 million for Good Planet Foods. $32 million for Gathered Foods. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. At the higher end, Impossible Foods raised a staggering $200 million in August alone.
Global plant-based food sales hit $5 billion in 2019 but one recent study points to a massive scaling of the industry over the next decade. It predicts an approximate $75 billion plant-based food market well before the end of the 2020s. That’s an enormous opportunity for new and existing brands. But it also comes with massive competition, not just from meat, eggs and dairy, but from all the other upstart companies as well.
So, how do plant-based brands find a competitive advantage in this crowded space? How do you grow your revenues AND build your brand to last?
You build community around it, especially in the digital realm.
Here are five reasons why community is the hidden key to driving brand value and business growth for plant-based brands.
1 – Food is inherently communal.
There are companies, products and brands that have worked to build digital or in-person communities around their brands. But the path to doing that can be difficult if a company’s product isn’t inherently exciting or designed to facilitate human connection.
Food doesn’t have this problem. Shopping for food as a couple, cooking together with friends, dining together with your family and going out for meals are some of the defining human experiences, repeated day after day after day. People are instinctively drawn to food-centric communities, both online and off. And from all early indicators, plant-based brands may draw even more intensely passionate people to their folds than other food products.
By creating a digital destination for people to partner with your brand, you tap into that human need to gather around food – all while helping consumers build stronger connections to and affinity for your brand.
2 – Purpose is one of the most powerful attractors for brand communities.
If your brand is about a purpose greater than just your product, you have a serious advantage in attracting and retaining people. Some brands try and graft higher purpose onto their existing products. But consumers know when you’re faking it or trying to greenwash a bad business. They are skeptical if not outright cynical about corporate spin on social responsibility.
But at the same time, the desire for socially conscious business is real. The numbers vary depending on the survey and source, but typically suggest that approximately 66% of global consumers will pay more for sustainable products and brands. And those numbers only increase when you look at breakdowns of Millennials and Gen Z, the imminent powers in consumer purchasing.
Looking at the issue from a slightly different angle: a Nielsen global study found that 81% of people feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment.
What about a third angle? A 2020 US NIH (National Institute of Health) report finds there is “strong evidence of public concern over the moral implications of actual animal production systems on farm animal welfare.”
What does all this mean for building community? If your brand is leaning into purpose you have a huge advantage. CEOs are increasingly aware of this. The 2020 KPMG CEO Outlook noted that 77% of CEOs said the primary objective of their companies was purpose or societally-driven.
There is a massive audience out there waiting to connect with you on a deeper level than just the love of your product. Frame your community around changing the world with your product – environmentally, sustainability-wise and with respect to animal welfare. Many people want to contribute to a better world, and, unlike many companies, plant-based brands can genuinely deliver the goods in this area.
3 – Your community is already out there. You just need to tap into it.
There are large active communities online and across social media dedicated to:
-Vegans and vegetarians
-Healthy eaters/People looking to reduce animal product consumption
These communities represent millions of people who might be interested in joining a plant-based brand community. They’re already gathering around their passions. You just need to invite them to your dedicated community or tap into them where they already are.
4 – The growth of the plant-based food sector will produce winners and losers.
The growth of the plant-based food sector is going to be, as we noted earlier, massive. And some brands already have traction at retail and in restaurants. But we are still early in this process and that means the biggest winners are still to-be-determined.
Today’s presumptive winners may be gone in a decade. Many of the well-capitalized brands will swing and miss with consumers. And some long tail plant-based brands may eventually surge in popularity.
The point: building a healthy, durable brand community will help you to innovate within, and insulate you against, the potentially volatile ups and downs of this young, developing market.
5 – Your target customers are hardwired to connect and contribute online.
The oldest Millennials are entering their 40s. Gen Z is now graduating into the workforce. They all have purchasing power. But more importantly perhaps, they have expectations of how brands should behave in the digital economy. Which means they expect you to act like a technology company, even if your expertise is plant-based protein.
Digital communities are an organic fit into how these two generations live their everyday lives (see item #3 above). These communities tap social media, but also go beyond it, building deeper partnerships and collaborations between consumers and brand. This is particularly important considering not every capitalized brand is going to win (see #4).
You’ll get value on day one as you start collaborating with your community members, but a more strategic way to look at your community is as a force multiplier for your brand. Launching a DTC arm of your business? You have community members who can spread the word and sign up new people. Need original stories and content about your products and how people enjoy them at home? Your community can produce it. Want to get feedback on products, packaging or marketing plans? Your community will provide it. Need help executing a social media campaign? You’ve got the community to do it.
Everything you’re already doing to win can be advanced by connecting it to your community.
Want to learn more?
Connect with our team and we’ll show you how we can help you build a strategic community asset for your plant-based food brand.
In North America, contact Rob Dawson, CEO at firstname.lastname@example.org
In the UK/Europe, contact Roland Harwood, Managing Director – Europe at email@example.com