Leading US plant-based food companies are reportedly considering the formation of a coalition to counteract successful marketing strategies like The Incredible, Edible Egg and Got Milk?, primarily propelled by Big Ag. This initiative, slated for a 2024 launch, comes as a reaction to the negative press and targeted ads by Big Ag.
The plant-based sector has weathered turbulent times over recent years, facing hits from multiple directions. Sales attacks, media criticisms and advertisement blitzes, many orchestrated by Big Ag and its affiliates, have all left marks.
Though no official announcements have been made, Adweek detailed discussions regarding the coalition in the past six months. The collaboration would involve a mix of smaller startups and established industry leaders. Some motivations for the move can be traced back to contentious media coverage, like the Bloomberg article dismissing plant-based meat as a fad and the relentless targeting by the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) of the extensive ingredient lists in plant-based products.
While the coalition was slated to kick off this year, several challenges, such as those posed by inflation, have postponed the plans. When the coalition launches, the strategy is expected to encompass a broad-based national marketing campaign. The coalition might collaborate with creatives familiar with the plant-based arena, potentially seeking pro-bono or discounted contributions.
Big Ag Strikes
CCF’s campaign against plant-based alternatives covered print ads, op-eds, videos and targeted websites like Clean Food Facts. Its most notable jab was a 2020 Super Bowl ad where young Spelling Bee contenders grappled with complex chemical names associated with “synthetic meats.” And earlier this year, a milk commercial starring actress Aubrey Plaza for the fictional product called “Wood Milk” emerged as a symbol of the ongoing clash between dairy and plant-based milk producers.
In response to Big Ag’s strategies, Beyond Meat rolled out a campaign that subtly highlighted its commitment to farmers and countered misinformation surrounding plant-based proteins.
Peter McGuinness, CEO of Impossible Foods, emphasized the need for better marketing from plant-based companies, given Big Ag’s coordinated and resounding voice. The sentiment of forging industry coalitions has resonated widely, as indicated by Beyond CEO, Ethan Brown, during a recent earnings call.
Crafting a Counter-Narrative
Some express reservations regarding the coalition’s viability. Adweek explored potential campaign directions, with some favoring hard-hitting truths about factory farming and food safety, while others advocate for a more educational approach. Regardless of the chosen direction, it will be important to encourage small, everyday lifestyle changes rather than strict veganism.
While there is a consensus on the urgency to act against Big Ag’s mounting pressures, the mode of action remains debated. Some argue for consistent and widespread advocacy while others suggest leveraging contemporary platforms and technologies to generate compelling narratives.
The Funding Hurdle
Although advocacy organizations like the Plant Based Foods Association and the Good Food Institute exist, they largely focus on research rather than directly engaging consumers. The proposed marketing coalition might mark a pivotal shift for the industry, especially when set against the backdrop of its recent challenges.
However, the financial aspect remains a challenge. Unlike Big Ag’s Big Beef and its Beef Checkoff initiative, the plant-based industry lacks a consistent funding scheme. Considering the stories of limited profitability in the plant-based landscape, finding the funds will be difficult. Yet, the need for unity against Big Ag’s onslaught is important if a plant-based marketing coalition is to come to fruition.