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Fear of the new: The importance of storytelling in the meat-free market

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 15-Jan-2013
Last updated on 15-Jan-2013 at 13:13 GMT

Fear of the new: storytelling in the meat-free market

It’s not enough to have a great-tasting product – manufacturers of meat alternatives must tell a positive production story, according to the maker of an award-winning product taking the Dutch meat-free market by storm.

Ojah bv recently took the number one spot in an annual list of the Netherland’s 100 most innovative new products, determined by the Royal Association MKB-Nederland, with its Plenti-branded soy protein concentrate ingredient (originally called Beeter in the Netherlands). The company has an initial production capacity of 800,000 tonnes per year, with room to grow.

Commercial director Jeroen Willemsen says the product responds to a growing group of health- and planet-conscious consumers, who have been looking for meat-like texture and mouthfeel, and easily modifiable flavour – and the market is on the verge of exponential growth.

He says that the story behind the product is just as important as its sensory attributes, and the company makes sure people know that Plenti contains only soy from sustainable sources and water.

“Storytelling is very important in the sensitive meat-free market,” he says. “It’s a small but very critical group of consumers.”

However, storytelling is not just important to principle-driven vegetarians. Flexitarianism is on the up, as many consumers who enjoy the taste of meat aim to cut back due to health or environmental concerns. Flexitarians are also sensitive to a product’s back story.

Insects and crazy tricks of the mind

According to Willemsen, people’s sensitivity to a food’s production story may limit the appeal of alternatives to traditional farming, like edible insects and lab-grown meat, which he says are unlikely to see commercial success within the next 40 or 50 years.

“It’s all in the mind, which does crazy tricks with people,” he said. “I have experienced great tasting products based on insects that people spit out just when they hear that it is made from insects.

“The assumption that as long as you have a really great tasting product it can conquer the world is a misperception....The story around it must be easily explainable and people must have a positive association with it. People have fear of new things.”

Beyond burgers

Willemsen claims that the meat-free market is saturating, but the problem is a quality-price ratio for meat analogues that is unacceptable for most flexitarians.

“Most of the products at the moment mimic those products that have the highest turnover, like meatballs here in the Netherlands, or burgers, but these are also the least expensive meat products. The price gap between meat and meat alternatives is sometimes three or four times as much,” he says.

Ojah aims to provide a high-quality product at a lower price, with marketing focused toward younger consumers.

The time is ripe, he says, as people have been talking about a protein transition breakthrough for the past decade.

“I’m convinced that this breakthrough is really happening now...We have to be very careful not to scare off consumers themselves who are going through their own transition.”

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