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How to Position Plant-Based Foods Using Nuance and Consumer Research: Industry Expert Panel

“First, I think you have to understand the goals of the individual before you start assigning what products will work for them and what products should be on the market.” ~ Elysabeth Alfano

Elysabeth Alfano, David Benzaquen and Irina Gerry are no strangers to the plant-based space. Their collective experience spans from hosting a plant-based business podcast to investment and advising to marketing roles at some of the most well-known plant-based companies.

And they have a ton of insight into how brands can position their products and attract consumers in today’s growing plant-based market. With sub-niches spanning from cultivated meat to unprocessed plant foods, there’s plenty of room for innovation.

One of the biggest areas of opportunity for brands? Fresh and minimally-processed produce.

“I think there’s a tremendous degree of innovation opportunity in the produce aisle,” Gerry says, particularly in the area of “owning” the conversation around nutrition. Whereas meat and dairy camp out on protein, Gerry believes produce brands could win by centering their marketing on unique nutrients not found in animal products.

Benzaquen, however, advises focusing on removing barriers like peeling, chopping and extensive cooking time.

“People already know that fruits and vegetables are healthy,” he points out, “And they’re not consuming them now even though they know that.”

With whole food plant based becoming its own category, it’s more important than ever for brands to understand who they’re marketing to, what those consumers need and the best ways to deliver it through products and messaging.

🥗 Episode highlights

  • The broad spectrum of plant-based food and consumers’ perceptions of health
  • How brands play a role in plant-based diets—including encouraging consumers to eat more produce
  • How plant-based products are helping consumers make more conscious food choices for their health and the environment
  • The importance of taking a balanced approach to the plant-based movement and avoiding rigid, purist guidelines
  • Getting super specific with marketing to position plant-based products in ways that reach unique market subsets
  • The need to understand what words like health and sustainability mean to specific groups of consumers
  • Defining and positioning animal-free, plant-based and whole food plant-based products
  • Recognizing and overcoming barriers to people incorporating whole plant foods into their diets
  • Using branding and marketing campaigns to help consumers understand how to choose, use and prepare whole plant foods

The key takeaways from this discussion? The plant-based (and animal-free) space has a lot of sub-categories that appeal to different consumer groups. From people who are more concerned about sustainability than health to whole food plant-based purists, brands need to understand who they’re talking to and tailor both positioning and marketing to appeal to their unique audiences.

Understanding barriers to adoption—like lack of time or knowledge—can inform product development and marketing to better address specific consumer needs within each category. The more specific and targeted, the better; trying to go too broad runs the risk of the marketing message meaning nothing to anyone.

Gerry sums it up well: “You’ve gotta understand who you’re talking to and what you’re saying. That’s the fundamental principle of marketing: Do not try to be all things to all people.”

About David, Elysabeth and Irina

Irina Gerry, Elysabeth Alfano, and David Benzaquen, plant-based industry experts

David Benzaquen is one of the world’s leading experts in the plant-based food industry. He invests in and advises plant-based and alternative protein food disruptors through his firm Mission: Plant. He is also the co-founder of consumer insights firm Moonshot Collaborative and plant-based ecommerce grocery store, PlantBelly.com.

Elysabeth Alfano is the CEO of VegTech Invest, which advised the VegTech Plant-Based Innovation & Climate ETF (EATV). She is also the Founder of Plant Powered Consulting and the host of the Plantbased Business Hour. A respected thought leader and international speaker on trends in plant-based business, Elysabeth speaks globally on the state of the industry, including recently at the United Nations.

Irina Gerry is a Chief Marketing Officer at Change Foods, a precision fermentation food tech startup, creating animal-free dairy products. Irina has over a decade of experience in consumer marketing space with global giants, Procter & Gamble and Danone, as well as business strategy and operations with Deloitte.

Prior to joining Change Foods, Irina spent 5 years working on two of the best-known plant-based food and beverage brands, Silk and So Delicious. She is a purpose-driven entrepreneur and marketing leader, on a mission to transform the food system and drive widespread adoption of sustainable ways to feed the world. Irina holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.

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