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Marketers Weigh in on Plant-Based vs. Vegan

Specialty Food Association

Last week's Plant Based Food Expo 2022, which took place in New York, featured both emerging and mature brands marketed under plant-based and vegan designations.

The Plant Based Food Association, defines plant-based as “Food made from plants. No animal-derived ingredients.” This means that to have PBFA's plant-based certification, the food must also be vegan.

The titles, however, appeal to different audiences. Whereas the vegan modifier often resonates with consumers who self-identify as vegan, the term plant-based attempts to target a wider audience, specialty food makers told SFA News Daily. 

Supporters of the plant-based attribution sometime see “vegan” as an isolating term.

Rusti Porter, CMO of Miyoko’s Creamery, which does not use traditional milk or other animal products, uses the term “plant milk” to demonstrate the product’s plant-based roots.

“'Plant milk' is a term we are playing with every day. We find that our consumers are responding more positively to 'plant-milk' or 'plant-based' than to vegan. We still use vegan in our marketing tools, like 'incredibly vegan' but we don't want to isolate and target a subset of the market. We still want to appeal to more people.”

Marc Elkman, CEO and co-founder of Mighty Yum, a plant-based grab-and-go lunch option geared toward children, shares a similar mindset. “We don’t want to force the vegan label onto consumers,” he said. “And we don’t want parents to think that we want to convert their children to become vegan. Instead, we want to create a place for people to substitute meat options with plant alternatives.”

Jessica Gebel, the founder of Fabalish, which harnesses the power of aquafaba to make plant-based dishes, also cited the connotation that the word vegan can carry for non-vegans. “The term plant-based is friendlier or more open.”

These brands want consumers to know that their product is also vegan, listing it among other certifications that sometimes include Non-GMO and allergen-free.

Companies, like Miyoko’s and Miami, a plant-based meat company, also cited how the term plant-based can target the “flexitarian,” a person who primarily eats vegetarian but will on occasion consume meat or fish and their derived products.

On the other end of the spectrum are companies like Grown As* Foods which lead with the vegan attribution.

“We are unabashedly vegan,” Russel Thomas, general manager of the company told SFA News Daily. “To many CPG brands, plant-based is a middle ground. I find that we don’t need to do that… People who are curious will buy it or try it regardless of if it’s called plant-based or vegan.”

Vecan is similarly proud of its vegan certification. Yannic Scherer, international key account manager of the company, spoke about the philosophy of the brand’s parent company, Van Hees, citing its role in bringing vegan options both to Germany and other areas of Europe. The brand's name celebrates the term, said Scherer explaining that Vecan includes a pun on German pronunciation to change the word vegan into “Yes, Ve Can.”

Related: Kroger Panelist: Plant-Based Meat to Mirror Milk Analogs; Steakholder Foods Unveils Omakase Cultured Beef