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Marketing Plant-Based Products to Gen Z

The large, diverse generation that is Gen Z is emerging as a key customer segment for plant-based brands, especially as these young consumers prioritize food spending. Based on a March 2020 study, 80% of Gen Z respondents were expecting to consume less animal products in the next year, and 30% planned to be meat-free by 2021. Plant-based products sales have also grown at double the rate of the overall food and beverage market in the last year, with plant-based milk up almost 30%, and Beyond Meat sales rising from $40M in 2019 to $97M in the first quarter of 2020. Currently, 20% of Gen Z consumes either plant-based meat or beverages, with an additional 14% that consume both, and 30% do not already consume plant-based products but are interested in trying them. However, some findings have shown that the older generation of Millennials are further along in adopting plant-based products. 

As Gen Z’s preferences and priorities differ from other generations, it will be important for plant-based brands to utilize marketing tactics to optimize product appeal. Gen Z appreciates healthy products, unique flavors, and seeks out an eating experience, and as their appreciation for sustainability or CSR efforts continues to rise, plant-based brands are well positioned to reflect these values. Gen Z-specific marketing can pay off — research has shown that shoppers that consume plant-based products are willing to spend more than 60% more than an average shopper. As plant-based products continue to penetrate retail space, overall consumer interest is likely to increase, and marketing will become vital in the final steps of customer acquisition. We’ve highlighted some trends and important details to consider when marketing plant-based products to Gen Z. 

Providing a Better Experience  

Unique Touchpoints 

Online grocery and restaurant orders became extremely popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 73% of consumers making an online grocery purchase compared to only 17% in 2017. Recognizing a shift towards online shopping, Impossible Foods recently implemented a DTC eCommerce platform to increase touchpoints with their consumers. Based on an Instacart survey, over 30% of shoppers that have purchased plant-based products are between 30 and 39. However, over 50% of Gen Z shoppers are more likely to shop online for food as compared to older shoppers. And, 87% of Gen Z shoppers would consider trying out new products from an online grocer. This shows room for growth with the plant-based category in reaching Gen Z through eCommerce. 

Sustainability Efforts 

Sustainability has proven to be important to younger generations, with 83% of consumers under 44 expressing a willingness to pay a premium for sustainable packaging. Plant-based products sold in recyclable packaging can appeal to this interest in sustainability, as well as any additional explanations of efforts to reduce environmental impact. This could also include clean labeling, as 50% of consumers are interested in purchasing foods that have simple, non-chemical-sounding ingredients. However, an investment in sustainable packaging may increase manufacturers’ costs, or lack the same storage capabilities provided by traditional packaging. Overall, sustainability is an important element for plant-based brands to consider when targeting Gen Z. 

Product Design 

Gen Z enjoys the experience of eating, and plant-based products can be marketed to reflect that interest. Creating flavorful and exciting plant-based products can make them more appealing and even provide a cultural dining experience. Algae is another plant-based option that has become increasingly popular, as it provides a different experience from other plant-based foods with unique flavors and textures. Using healthy and high-quality ingredients and focusing on convenient or fun aspects of food preparation can make Gen Z more interested in plant-based products, especially since many plant-based consumers still consume animal-based products as well.  Additionally, brands can consider product line expansion to incorporate other plant-based dairy products like ice cream or cheese, making eating an overall plant-based experience. 

Connecting through Communication 

Social media has become a key platform for brands to utilize to connect with their Gen Z consumers. Brands like Kellogg’s Kashi and VERY GOOD food company have started working with macro- and micro-influencers to reach younger audiences and spread awareness of their plant-based products. Gen Z has responded well to marketing through Instagram and TikTok, as these platforms provide more of an interactive experience and allow users to share feedback on products. SIMULATE is one company that has captured interest from Gen Z with their creative communications, using a DTC model that has since expanded into retail, and an attractive “simulation”-style website. The brand has also been successful in using TikTok and memes to appeal to Gen Z, helping it stand out among competitors. 

In developing messaging to reach Gen Z, it is important that companies use the right terms to convey the ideas. According to research studies from the World Resource Institute’s Better Buying Lab, the way that brands convey their products through language has a significant impact on consumers’ preferences and perceptions of the products. The Better Buying Lab recommends avoiding more traditional vegetarian, vegan, and health-related language, as these terms may limit appeal to an audience that includes meat-eaters, as it can elicit preconceived negative stereotypes and may cause meat-eaters to imagine that the product is not tasty or nutritious. The Better Buying Lab found that using the term “vegan” would make 35% of consumers less likely to purchase a product, and in a separate study that told groups of consumers that a product was either healthy or not healthy, participants with the “healthy”-labeled product found it 55% less enjoyable than the other participants. This shows it is more important to use flavor and texture indicators to help a product stand out from competitors.  

For example, Panera conducted a test to see how their low-fat vegetarian black bean soup would perform when relabeled as a dish of Cuban origin and found that this renaming resulted in a 13% sales increase. Using terms like creamy, smooth, or melt-in-mouth can also appeal to the senses and reduce products’ association with stereotypical vegan or vegetarian products. Tattooed Chef is another brand that emphasizes farm-to-table appeal and their value proposition that they spend the time making their plant-based products delicious for the convenience of the consumer, emphasizing flavors in their messaging. 

Marketing Plant-Based Products

To successfully market plant-based products to younger, Gen Z consumers, it is important to consider how this generation differs in their communication styles, product and shopping preferences, and pre-existing plant-based product consumption habits. As Gen Z ages, the generation’s large size and spending power will make them a powerful customer segment to target. Whether you’re considering implementing a DTC strategy, need assistance with developing a great digital experience, or seeking out improved retailer relations, Clarkston’s experienced team can help your plant-based brand along the way. 

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Contributions by Courtney Loughran

Tags: Consumer Products Trends, Sales and Marketing Technology, Digital, Sustainability