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BUY. EAT. BUT NO REPEAT - Have vegan products been overhyped?

after once enjoying double-digit growth, sales in the plant-based meat category are not just flat but declining.

Whilst vegan product is still displayed prominently in UK supermarkets, on Wall Street plant-based is no longer flavour of the month.

“Once-Hot Fake Meat Sees Sales Slide, “says a dramatic headline in Bloomberg news (26.09.2022). The article goes on: “after once enjoying double-digit growth, sales in the plant-based meat category are not just flat but declining.”

Beyond Meat’s falling stock price is just one example of Wall Street’s loss of confidence. According to The Guardian, in 2019 the company was valued at “over $10bn (£8.9bn), more than Macy’s or Xerox. The most bullish investors believed that plant-based meat would make up 15% of all meat sales by 2030.”

Today, it’s valued at just $937.83 million. And other major plant-based players are experiencing similar challenges. So, why the current blip? One factor is push-back from the traditional meat industry. The Guardian again, “lobbyists for the meat industry have pointed out that these meat alternatives are processed food. One ad campaign called them “ultra-processed imitations.”’

But another, perhaps more profound, insight is one familiar to anyone who has worked in the food industry – the difficulty of altering ingrained consumer behaviour. The Grocer quotes Will Hayllar, Global Managing Partner at consulting firm OC&C: “Some investors failed to understand that it takes years – often decades – to change eating habits in any meaningful way…Their valuations treated Beyond Meat like a tech or digital start-up, where adoption rates and scalability can happen far quicker.”

Put simply, lack of repeat purchase is flattening demand.

“The problem, say some experts, is that the brand relied too heavily on the novelty of its product driving trial purchases, and not enough on creating something that would end up in shopping baskets week on week,” comments The Grocer. In the same issue, Nigel White, a former Marketing Controller of Quorn. says: “a company must focus on repeat purchases and loyalty over penetration and brand awareness.”

In short, plant-based producers need focus on turning their customers into Oliver Twists. And, like Dickens’ boy hero, get them asking for ‘more.

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