As plant-based meals become more popular around the world, both for dedicated vegetarians and those who simply want to eat less meat, the market has expanded. Now the challenge is on for marketers to differentiate their offerings and bring what was formerly a niche offering to a wider audience.
An Acumen Research and Consulting study estimated the global vegan food market will reach $24.3 billion by 2026. And among the brands taking the plant-based gastronomic market by storm is British Meatless Farm Co., a producer of meat-free burgers available to US consumers at Whole Foods Market.
We spoke to Meatless Farm’s newly appointed chief marketing officer Lone Thomsen about marketing a new generation of meat-free foods and the transparency needed to gain consumer trust.
After a long tenure in marketing, Thomsen joined Meatless Farm Co. last month from Coca Cola Company Western Europe, where she was the head of media and connections and oversaw a €400M budget and a team of media connections managers across 14 markets.
She also served as a strategic advisor for Meatless Farm before joining as a marketing executive and certainly knows a thing or two about new product awareness and growth.
Can you talk about your transition from strategic advisor to CMO for Meatless Farm?
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be part of this exciting journey since the early stages as a strategic advisor, working with our founder Morten Toft Bech to develop our brand identity, name, design, packaging and communications strategy. It was a passion project which I loved due to the purposeful mission. Basically, we want to make it easier for people to reduce their red meat consumption–whether for personal health or environmental reasons. We’re all about creating the taste, texture and nutritional value of meat with the power of plants. We want to create a good future through good eating and good farming. Just swapping one more meal a week can make a huge difference for future generations.
As the business has been growing considerably this past year and we have expanded into new growth markets, such as the US and Canada, the timing was right for me to get on board. It’s only been about a month in the role but I absolutely love it. It’s incredibly meaningful, I love the difference we are making and I love all the talented, passionate and enthusiastic people who have taken the business to where it’s at. Being awarded “Emerging Business of the Year” earlier this year by the Food and Drinks Federation in the UK is a huge testament to that. This is just the beginning of an incredibly exciting journey.
How much is executive accountability and having to justify the budget part of the role?
Clearly, the CMO role is under pressure in terms of being accountable for everything they do. There’s an increasing reliance on marketing to deliver–and be accountable of–business results but really that is how it should be. We, as marketers, need to make more informed choices from a marketing perspective to drive business growth. That’s why there’s a need to recruit more insights, performance and analytics people into marketing.
What do you think the next generation of young CMOs should be most concerned about, in terms of their career?
I don’t think the next generation of CMOs need to be concerned. But I think the role of the CMO has been expanding and requires a wide variety of capabilities–being business—and commercially-oriented, digitally- and data-savvy and creative. It can be difficult to have equally strong skills in all three areas. The challenge is to assemble the right team and recruit the right talent, to complement and strengthen all these areas of responsibility under the CMO.
How do you measure brand moments and experiential marketing?
We are at the beginning of the journey but we are aiming to be consumer-centric in everything we do: from understanding the right moments to connect with consumers to deliver the right experiences. Part of the measurement will be through brand tracking and how well we drive brand equity and brand love, part of it will be through business metrics of understanding conversion, acquisition and retention. Softer metrics will be around engagement with the brand through our channels and conversations.
Let’s talk sustainable marketing. What’s unique about marketing vegan/vegetarian products? Are consumers today, especially those buying meat-free products, more receptive to some types of marketing vs. others?
I think sustainable marketing and marketing plant-based meat alternatives/vegan-friendly products differ in the sense that the audience scrutinizes everything you do. It requires an increased level of transparency and for companies to be genuine and true to what they do. Vegans particularly are very educated about ingredients, nutritional levels and what they eat. Also, it requires some form of education and patience if you want to create a behavioral change which obviously doesn’t happen overnight. I believe our pack is our most strategically important communications vehicle but also PR, social media and personal stories are great levers.
How does it differ in Europe vs. the US?
Building a global brand requires consistency while adapting to local insights to resonate and be culturally relevant. There’s a lot of similarities across the US and Europe but there are also differences. To my earlier point about striving to be consumer-centric in everything we do, we do a lot of analysis to understand insights, motivations and triggers as well as media consumption to be able to deliver a message across the world which will resonate locally with our audience.