As we walk down the aisles of our supermarkets, the plethora of products on offer is grander than ever before. No longer are we limited to milk, butter, eggs and bread but we find ourselves scanning across various types of milks; from almond to hazelnut, butters made from coconut oils and egg replacements steeped from flax seeds. The most evident fact about these products being that they are in fact not milks, butters nor eggs – they are all dairy free alternatives, appeasing a market that has boomed in the past few years. Veganism. The abstinence from using any animal products, also known as veganism, promotes the use of solely plant-based produce. This opened a huge market for dairy and meat free products that we now see flooding the shelves. As a bunch of branding brains we found ourselves looking at the ways in which these new products present themselves, how is this niche making a stand in a world lead by meat and dairy?
As a niche market, vegan produce has always had to make strong attempts to stand out and differentiate itself from the common market. Always featuring in the ‘Free from’ sections of supermarkets, this category has predominantly competed in its own realm, but with exponential growth comes the increasing need to compete with a greater number of brands. Where we initially saw design being limited to heavily vegetal and green imagery, exemplifying the nature of the plant-based products, we can now see movement into a mainstream direction. Dairy free products have always been overgrown with leaf motifs and references to their plant origins. Market leaders Alpro adorn all their packaging with a combination of their large navy logo, a flurry of leaves and a large image of the product’s main ingredient taking centre stage.
This simple design ticks all the boxes of what vegan products USED to look like – a recognisable brand that consumers know is vegan approved signified by a large logo, a series of leaves or green plants to signify naturalness and a main image of the primary ingredient signifying the lack of dairy and meat. However, as a market grows and seeps into mainstream culture, the need to fit to a niche becomes less necessary. Plant-based products aren’t just for the vegan consumers but for anyone that might be health conscious (it’s an extremely popular diet choice) or even just those who desire a greater variety in their diets. So with this in mind, these brands aren’t just trying to be noticeable to vegan customers, but desirable to the masses. When it comes to design, this opens up every door imaginable – you are just as limited as any other product on the market, able to keep up with general trends in packaging or able to establish a concrete sense of brand identity that exists without the restrictive ‘vegan aesthetic’.
So, we find ourselves asking the question – how successful are these various brands at not only mastering their own market but breaking the mainstream too?
Being such a fast growing category, there are hundreds of brands that are hitting our supermarkets. Attempting to steer away from the typical nature-centric image, multiple brands abide by current trends in packaging, making them not only appealing to the expected vegan consumer but also those merely drawn in by the aesthetic. Swedish based company Oatly make a range of oat-based drinks. Much like the rest of Scandinavian design, this packaging speaks simplicity and modernity. The block colouring and huge type makes for a instantly noticeable product that will shout from the shelves. Compared to predominantly white cartons and packs of milk on supermarket shelves, eyes would be instantly drawn to these pastel palettes.
Drinks and cereals brand Rude Health takes this even further, with vibrant designs, their range features bright colours and playful digital drawings that distinguish the different products. On the shelf they stand head and shoulders above the rest – there’s no missing these cartons as you walk past – you’re enticed to discover what more. Both of these brands have no reservations in going full steam ahead, practically skipping the idea of focusing on vegan branding (not a leaf in sight!) instead exploiting style trends. And what a job they’ve done; both brands have made a name for themselves as brilliant milk alternatives, driven by their edgy and up-to-date brand concepts that make them visually appealing and highly popular in a consumer society so driven by aesthetic.
As mentioned before, in a market growing so rapidly, the need to appeal to a wider audience becomes very apparent. Although the number of vegans in the UK alone has increased by a whopping 350% in the last decade, the number of products now being made can’t be targeted solely towards a demographic that is minuscule compared to dairy and meat consumers. So how do you get non-specialist consumers on board with what is essentially a specialist product? It’s pretty simple really, don’t mention the word ‘vegan’. We can see hundreds of brands moving towards using terms such as ‘plant-based’ or ‘dairy and meat free’, softer terms that feel less labelling than the concrete ‘vegan’. Categorising something as vegan can often restrict the audience, as our behaviour as consumers reacts to categories and labels very instinctively. If we do not consider ourselves part of the targeted demographic we will likely move straight past the product without thinking twice about it being for us. Take hair washing products as a great example, compared to many other shampoos a product that claims “Kids Haircare Shampoo” on the label may bare absolutely zero differences to other shampoos on the market ingredient-wise, but the categorisation of ‘kids’ results in a practically involuntary decision that the product is clearly not for someone that isn’t a child. The same works with the vegan market. Being vegan is seen as a status and identifier. If one doesn’t comply with being a vegan they are unlikely to subscribe to purchasing products that claim to be vegan or for vegans. Call it ‘plant-based’ however, and you open the category up to anyone and everyone that consumes plants… which is a pretty huge target market!
The vegan market is slowly but surely making a real place for themselves amongst the masses. We’ve been able to see on-trend and stylish packaging, inclusive language use and a variety of products that challenges that of jelly-bean flavours! What we really want to know now, is how is this momentum going to be harnessed and continued? What more can the plant-based brands of today and tomorrow do to make a stand for their name? To what extent will they keep separate from or merge with the mainstream? Or have they already got their foot far enough in the door to coexist and co-compete with the dairy and meat world. It is thoroughly exciting to watch a booming market fill our shelves with shiny new packets and scrumptious treats to look at, and we are sure there’ll be plenty more ‘sprouting’ up in the near future.