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Channelling the plant-based challenge: How to increase brand awareness and engagement by harnessing the power of nonprofit-run campaigns such as Veganuary

(10 min read)

In the past few years, plant-based campaigns from organisations such as Veganuary have proved to be one of the most effective ways to attract flexitarian consumers to plant-based eating. For businesses looking to target the ever-growing number of consumers eating plant-based products, engaging with these – often global – campaigns and challenges is integral to boosting sales as well as enhancing your company’s reputation.

Some of the most popular plant-based campaigns and challenges are time-bound, global and led by non-profits, allowing non-committal consumers to dip their toe in the plant-based waters without feeling pressured by expectations that their diet changes must be permanent. It’s an ideal time for businesses to tap into a demographic of first-time samplers who might be averse to purchasing plant-based products at other times of the year. Some of the most popular ways of working with these plant-based campaigns include launching or promoting products during the time of a campaign, partnering with the organisation running the campaign to include sponsored content directed at those taking part in the challenge, or by launching campaign-inspired giveaways or publicity stunts.

There are many benefits to embracing the above approach and working with or alongside plant-based campaigns. Most importantly, it helps to promote the plant-based cause – and your plant-based products – to a wider audience, while, at the same time, boosting your company’s profits and expanding your brand footprint. There are a range of different campaigns and challenges open to commercial participation, from the McCartney family’s Meat Free Mondays to Veganuary to ProVeg’s own much-loved Veggie Challenge.

When planning how your company can best take part in an existing plant-based challenge or campaign, there are numerous factors to consider – all of which will play a role in how successful your campaign collaboration will be. We’ve compiled five key pieces of advice to help your business get the most out of participating in these campaigns:

  1. Partner with a non-profit organisation
  2. Plan your marketing strategy ahead of time
  3. Highlight key metrics wherever possible
  4. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box
  5. Take part in the challenge yourself!

No matter how you might end up designing your plant-based campaign, it is vital to keep everything as authentic as possible, prioritising genuine care for the cause wherever possible. You’ll notice that this theme runs throughout the rest of the article – be sure to keep it in mind when working with external campaigns – consumers can easily pick up when a brand’s intentions are inauthentic.

Read on to find out more about how to implement these five pieces of advice as effectively as possible, helping to make the most of any future plant-based campaigns.

1. Partner with a campaign

There are many reasons why your company might want to take part in a plant-based campaign, including driving profits, increasing your brand equity, or supporting a wider cause such as sustainability, health, or animal rights. Partnering with a campaign will also require you to make myriad decisions in order to ensure that you follow a campaigning path that balances results with cost. This is why we recommend joining forces with  a well-established campaign, such as Veganuary, Meatless Mondays, or ProVeg’s Veggie Challenge.

The three key benefits of partnering with a non-profit organisation such as ProVeg are:

1. These campaigns are run by organisations with experience and expertise 

Organisations that are centred around particular plant-based challenges and campaigns have had years of experience in putting together the perfect campaign, combining behavioural psychology with cutting-edge science and savvy marketing techniques.

One particular campaign known as Semana sin carne (‘week without meat’), run by ProVeg Spain, focuses on providing participants with easy plant-based swaps for animal-based meat. In the last few years, ProVeg Spain has worked alongside plant-based meat-alternative brand the Vegetarian Butcher, as well as food giant Upfield, which has provided the team with invaluable experience in how best to cater to each corporate partner.

“It was more difficult to merge the Upfield brand with the campaign, as their focus is on margarines and spreads, not meat alternatives,” says Verónica Larco Jiménez, Communications Manager at ProVeg Spain. “Nevertheless, we still managed to run a hugely successful campaign which made the most of their brand by taking into account their offerings and corporate mission. They have been consistently promoting plant-based as a brand, which aligned perfectly with our goals as an organisation.”

If you work for a company that does not necessarily specialise in plant-based products, or if you are not certain as to how your brand might best fit within the wider plant-based space, collaborating with a plant-based campaign or challenge is a great way to leverage expertise and experience in the plant-based space.

woman holding nose at marmite
Source: Marmite UK

An example of the marketing campaign run by UK spread brand Marmite for Veganuary in 2021.

2. You get to tap into the campaign’s specialist insights and ready-made consumer networks

The organisations that run plant-based campaigns often have unique and exclusive insights into the desires and behaviours of flexitarians and veg-curious consumers, which means that a collaboration can help your company to make the most of a plant-based campaign without putting too much pressure on your company’s research and marketing team. They also typically have extensive consumer networks and large social-media presences. As such, a collaboration with a campaign could put your company in good stead for broadening your brand’s reach and appeal.

Nonprofits also often have a wealth of resources at hand to help participants undertaking these challenge-based campaigns. The ProVeg Veggie Challenge, for example, has developed several strategies to help support and motivate those taking part in the 30-day challenge. ProVeg provides participants with an insightful newsletter featuring tips and recipes – along with a personal Veggie Challenge coach to help support participants with any questions or specific issues – while the Veggie Challenge app lets participants see the positive impact of their dietary choices in real time and gives participants the opportunity to earn badges and unlock special recipes throughout the 30 days. 

Download the Veggie Challenge App

The ProVeg Veggie Challenge App makes it easier than ever to try a more plant-based diet. Download our handy tool to find and save your favourite recipes, create shopping lists, and see the positive impact you’re having.

If you are a company looking to promote the plant-based cause and reach more flexitarian consumers, partnering with an organisation like ProVeg is a savvy way to do it. 

3. The information provided by these nonprofit campaigns is seen as a trustworthy source of information for consumers

Almost a third of European consumers are likely or very likely to look to an NGO website to find information about plant-based products.[1]Moreover, according to research by Morning Consult, over half of US adults trust nonprofit organisations.[2] Similarly, a report by the Charity Commission for England and Wales found that trust in charities is higher than it is in private companies or newspapers.[3] It’s clear that a high proportion of consumers trust NGOs as a reliable source of information and a force for good in the world.

If your company is looking to make a difference to the plant-based movement, partnering up with a plant-based campaign will help to assure your consumers that your company’s interest in the cause is legitimate and authentic. It also helps consumers to connect your branding with the campaign’s positive messaging.

It makes sense to link with an organisation like ProVeg because we have credibility. Rather than spending money on what might be seen as just a PR stunt or a money grab, they can collaborate with a non-profit and contribute the same funds towards an intrinsic mission.”

Annemarie Ijkema

Country Manager, ProVeg Belgium – spearheaded the Donderdag Veggiedag (‘Thursday Veggieday’) campaign in the country.

ProVeg Belgium
Source: Eva

ProVeg Belgium have extensive experience in running plant-based campaigns, including their successful Donderdag Veggiedag campaign

It’s vital to understand that a collaboration with a nonprofit as exactly that: a two-way, collaborative partnership. Viewing it as purely transactional will not help you to get the most out of the collaboration and consumers are more likely to see it as a profit-seeking stunt.

“Some companies look at a partnership with us like we’re selling them an advertising budget,” Ijkema continues. “But they shouldn’t see it this way. It’s more about helping to educate consumers and fostering a long-term relationship that helps to promote the accessibility and availability of plant-based foods.”

As such, if your company is looking for a way to get involved with a plant-based campaign or challenge, we recommend that you consider looking at a campaign run by a nonprofit like ProVeg, allowing you to tap into the organisation’s expertise, resources, and reputation.

2. Plan your marketing strategy ahead of time

Deciding exactly what pathway is best for your company – and taking into account what will have the most impact at the least cost – is tricky. With millions of people taking part in a range of plant-based challenges every year, the key difficulty as a business lies in getting consumers to associate the campaign with your brand. This takes time and careful planning throughout the year, not just during the campaign period.

There are many different ways for your business to take part in a plant-based challenge or campaign. Most vitally, you want to attract the consumer’s attention and actively maintain it for the duration of the campaign. The appropriate marketing strategies and engagement opportunities depend largely on the type of business – whether it’s a brand, retailer, or food-service business – and thus planning the right strategy in advance is essential.

Popular strategies used by food-service brands during the course of plant-based campaigns such as Veganuary include launching new menu items during the campaign period or offering special discounts for consumers choosing plant-based options. It can also be the perfect way to soft-launch a more permanent transition to plant-based menu items.

Popular UK restaurant chain Wagamama was hugely successful with this approach. In 2021, they launched a full range of new plant-based menu items and announced their commitment to making 50% of their menu fully plant-based by the end of that year.[4] Demonstrating the efficacy of this approach, the Restaurant Group, which owns Wagamama and other international chains, reported a dramatic increase in orders of vegan items across its businesses — from 5% to 20% between 2021 and 2022.[5] 

For brands looking to launch new plant-based products or boost the sales of existing ones, supporting a campaign or challenge can also be extremely effective if properly planned. Hannah Weller, International Corporate Engagement Manager at Veganuary, tells us that launching products during a plant-based campaign can dramatically boost sales. Veganuary generates lots of ‘veg-curious’ consumers via their email pledge series in January, making it an ideal time to launch a new product, although it can be easy to get lost in the noise. Planning a marketing strategy in good time – which should be at least four to six months before your campaign or challenge begins – is essential to ensuring that your messaging lands with consumers.

Despite all the activity taking place in the plant-based space during these campaigns,  it can still be useful to use the time as an opportunity to trial new products. “Not everything will work, and price can be a barrier in some cases,” Weller says. “But, with such a large demographic of people signing up to try plant-based during Veganuary (over 600,000 in 2022), it’s the perfect time to trial things.”

Taking the time to plan for every eventuality – and then making the most out of the lessons learned – will be the defining factor between a company that thrives during a plant-based campaign and one that loses out.

If launching a new product during a month-long campaign doesn’t work for you, there are other options to consider. For example, the ongoing Veggie Challenge has collaborated with brands such as Alpro, Vivera, and Garden Gourmet. During Semana sin carne in 2021, ProVeg Spain collaborated with the Vegetarian Butcher as part of a paid partnership. ProVeg used the funds provided to further its mission of reducing the global consumption of animal-based products by 50% by 2040. In return, the Vegetarian Butcher was a featured brand in the Semana sin carne campaign newsletter, and was also featured in recommended recipes for challenge participants and on the ProVeg Spain website. ProVeg was also able to engage its expansive influencer network to promote the campaign alongside the Vegetarian Butcher, reaching an estimated 458,000 consumers. This was a great way for the brand to expand their reach, while still naturally fitting in with the goal of Semana sin carne and ProVeg as a whole.

ProVeg Spain used an Instagram giveaway as a savvy marketing tool to promote their partnership with the Vegetarian Butcher for Semana sin carne in 2021.

Other marketing strategies include in-store discounts or offers on plant-based products, as well as social media-focused promotions utilising the power of influencers. If you’d like to learn more about how best to harness influencers as part of your broader marketing strategy, click here to read ProVeg’s full article or watch the webinar on the topic. 

Some campaigns, such as Veganuary and Meat Free Mondays, allow companies to use their logo and name in their marketing free of charge. Others, however, such as Donderdag Veggiedag, are more protective of their trademark, which cannot be used without permission. Making sure that you take into account the legal differences between different charitable organisations will be important when planning any potential collaborations. According to Veronica Larco Jiménez of ProVeg Spain, accounting for these logistical complications is an important part of planning any campaign. “You need to make sure you plan your partnership in time in order to get everything ready,” she says. “It always takes longer than you think it will.”

Finally, as we already know, plant-based campaigns and challenges vary in terms of when they take place. Some challenges are known for being held during a certain time period, like Veganuary, which takes place in January. Others – such as the Veggie Challenge – are available to participants throughout the year, making them a flexible and on-demand option. Keeping this in mind will help you to plan a campaign that attracts the most consumers. For example, in February, there are typically swathes of consumers looking to join in on the plant-based diet if they missed Veganuary, as well as those who did participate and who are looking for further direction. Partnering with a flexible campaign such as the Veggie Challenge gives consumers the freedom to try plant-based eating whenever they like while also promoting a brand’s visibility and reputation.

3. Highlight key metrics wherever possible

To get the most out of a campaign partnership, it’s important to make the tangible and quantifiable benefits of taking part clear to consumers. The best way to do this is to include key metrics wherever possible. You need to demonstrate that taking part in a campaign your company is affiliated with will save your customer a specific amount of money, or will reduce emissions by a certain amount.

For example, ProVeg’s Veggie Challenge provides calculations for its participants that aid them in visualising the material impact their participation in the challenge will have in real-time. These calculations can be found here. ProVeg approximates that signing up for the Veggie Challenge and going vegan for 30 days can help an individual to avoid the slaughter of three animals, along with 62.5 kilograms of CO2-eq emissions, while saving 39,000 litres of water and 64.9 metres2 of land.[6]

Similarly, ProVeg Spain was able to calculate the impact of their Semana sin carne campaign in 2021. The team calculated that, in total, participation in the challenge avoided 100,681 kilograms of CO2-eq emissions, while saving 25,978,636 litres of water, and 161,691 metres2 of land.[7] (Note that the Veggie Challenge uses different estimates and calculations.)

A recent report by animal-advocacy organisation Faunalytics found that one of the key barriers for consumers in taking up and maintaining a vegan or vegetarian diet was motivation. Some strategies suggested to overcome this issue include educating individuals on the health and animal-justice benefits.[8] As such, we recommend collaborating with a partner who can provide these calculations to participants, or else invest in providing your own calculations as a motivating force for consumers to stick with a campaign challenge.

Accounting on a laptop, close-up of screen with hand
Source: Adobe/mmphoto

Quantifying and communicating the impact of a plant-based campaign to participants is vital to retaining interest and achieving long-term change.

Joey van Griethuijsen, Coordinator of the Veggie Challenge, recommends not only employing these key metrics, but making sure that they are given a proper context and made relatable to participants.

Try to link the statistics to equivalent examples that are more easily understood, such as transforming CO2 emissions into the number of miles driven in a car. This will help participants to better quantify their impact.”

Joey van Griethuijsen

Coordinator of the Veggie Challenge

Ultimately, providing consumers with the right motivation to take part in a lifestyle-change campaign and reasons to retain their changed behaviour after the end of the campaign will mean that customers come back for more of your brand or product. Providing informative statistics also makes your company’s endorsement of a campaign seem more authentic, as consumers are able to see the real-world impact on animals, health, and the environment. 

4. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box

Some of the most memorable corporate forays into the world of plant-based have been made during plant-based campaign periods such as Veganuary. These campaigns and challenges provide the perfect opportunity for brands and businesses to make big statements and launch PR stunts. At the end of the day, with so many people trying plant-based eating during these periods, attracting and retaining attention is one of the key metrics by which to measure success.

As such, you shouldn’t be scared to think too creatively when considering how your company might best collaborate with those hosting the campaigns. An example of a successful PR stunt conducted during Veganuary 2021 comes from plant-based meat alternative brand This – who are no strangers to both good press and bad press.[9] For this particular stunt, This took over the English town of Quorn, sponsoring some of their local shops, their pub, and their bingo hall – a lighthearted attempt to challenge their plant-based meat competitor, UK brand Quorn.[10] Also in 2021, This set up a comedy helpline for those undertaking Veganuary who were struggling to stay away from animal-based meat.[11]

Using humour to develop your brand image during campaign periods such as Veganuary are a great way to attract flexitarian consumers who might be on the fence about your product or service. However, as with any unorthodox marketing strategy, you need to be careful not to lose sight of your core values, or else you risk alienating your traditional consumer base. As we explored earlier, participating in a plant-based campaign in partnership with a nonprofit campaign like ProVeg’s Veggie Challenge can help to avoid this. By working with a campaign, you can leverage the organisation’s expertise in order to craft the perfect plant-based campaign, while also providing an authentic commitment to the shift towards plant-based eating.

5. Take part in the challenge yourself!

The final recommendation which can help to boost your company’s credibility and make your plant-based campaign seem authentic is to take part in the campaign yourselves.  This is especially effective if you are not already a fully plant-based company. Consumers can easily see through profit-driven corporate actions that come off as disingenuous or inauthentic. Most consumers prefer brands who share their social values and aren’t afraid to show it.[12] Making sure your team or department takes part in the challenge at the same time as promoting your products or discounts to the consumer can help to assuage this issue. There are many other added benefits as well, including a boost to your team’s morale and lowering their carbon footprint.

In the Netherlands, ProVeg offers Veggie Challenge Teams, a group-based version of the Veggie Challenge app which helps companies and organisations to take part in the Veggie Challenge as a group. Some of the features include live graphs showing the impact of participation in the challenge, group chats, and personal, group, and organisation-level results, as well as recipes which are popular within your team – everything you might need to keep your organisation motivated while taking part in the challenge.

Happy diverse people holding hands in the park
Source: Adobe/rawpixel.com

Taking part in a plant-based campaign as a team can be a great way to promote workplace morale and team solidarity.

Faye Lewis, Head of Communications at vegan charity Viva!, which hosts a 7-day and a 30-day vegan challenge, recommends a top-down approach with company executives leading by example. Getting the full team involved in such a way will not only promote company culture and team morale, but is also a helpful way to identify gaps and issues within your company’s plant-based offerings.

Hannah Weller gives the example of UK supermarket retailer Marks & Spencer, who took part in the Veganuary Workplace Challenge after launching their Plant Kitchen range in 2019. “Having personally taken part in the challenge, a member of the M&S Senior Management team [who wasn’t vegan] realised that they were missing key products in their plant-based range that they hadn’t previously considered, such as in the bakery section,” Weller says. “Taking part in the workplace challenge was an eye-opener for their whole team to figure out which plant-based options consumers need on shelves.”

If you’re looking to get your company involved in a team-wide plant-based challenge, the most important thing to remember is to keep it lighthearted and fun. The gamification elements of the Veggie Challenge app can help to keep your staff engaged throughout the challenge, promoting greater success and positive feelings around plant-based eating. Other ways to do this within your company would be to have internal competitions, such as best-cooked plant-based meal – or even worst-cooked!

Key takeaways

With every year comes the launch of a new round of plant-based campaigns and challenges, with more and more consumers keen to take part. Your company should be harnessing this momentum and attempting to draw in customers by participating in campaigns in one form or another.

To reiterate, our key recommendations for any business interested in making the most of nonprofit-run campaigns or challenges are:

  1. Partner with a non-profit organisation
  2. Plan your marketing strategy ahead of time
  3. Highlight key metrics wherever possible
  4. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box
  5. Take part in the challenge yourself!

The common thread of each of these pieces of advice is the need for your company to engage authentically with the plant-based cause. After all, such campaigns and challenges are forged from a genuine desire to change the way we consume animal-based products around the world.

“Focus on helping people achieve their plant-based goals – don’t just focus on the corporate element or promoting your business,” says Larco Jiménez. “Focus on the real cause behind it all: increasing the consumption of plant-based products.”

And remember – real change starts at home. Don’t be afraid to try something like the Veggie Challenge yourself, individually. For more information on how your company can get involved in the Veggie Challenge as a corporate partner, you can email ProVeg at [email protected]

References

References
1 Smart Protein Project (2021): What consumers want: A survey on European consumer attitudes towards plant-based foods. Country specific insights. European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (No 862957). Available at: https://smartproteinproject.eu/consumer-attitudes-plant-based-food-report/ Accessed 2022-08-28.
2 Morning Consult (2022) via Wright, P. (2022): Trust In Nonprofits Varies By Generation. The NonProfit Times. Available at: https://www.thenonprofittimes.com/npt_articles/trust-in-nonprofits-varies-by-generation/ Accessed 2022-09-06.
3 Charity Commission for England and Wales (2022): Public trust in charities 2022. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/research-into-public-trust-in-charities-and-trustees-experience-of-their-role/public-trust-in-charities-2022 Accessed 2022-09-08.
4 Vegconomist (2021): Wagamama Launches Veganuary Menu, Vows to Make Half Its Dishes Meatless in 2021. Available at: https://vegconomist.com/gastronomy-food-service/wagamama-launches-veganuary-menu-vows-to-make-half-its-dishes-meatless-in-2021/ Accessed 2022-09-09.
5 The Restaurant Group (2022): FY21 Financial summary. Available at: https://otp.investis.com/clients/uk/restaurant_group/rns/regulatory-story.aspx?cid=1134&newsid=1560814 Accessed 2022-05-05.
6 ProVeg International (2021): How Much Impact Can You Make By Taking The Veggie Challenge. Available at: https://proveg.com/blog/how-much-you-could-save-by-taking-the-veggie-challenge/ Accessed 2022-09-07.
7 Data courtesy of ProVeg Spain (2021).
8 Anderson, J., & Milyavskaya, M. (2022): Going Vegan Or Vegetarian: Barriers and Strategies On The Path To Success. Faunalytics. Available at: https://faunalytics.org/going-veg-barriers-and-strategies/# Accessed 2022-09-08.
9 Gough, A. (2022): ‘COERCIVE AS F*CK’: did tone-deaf meat fakers THIS manipulate vegans into tasting flesh?. Surge Campaigning. Available at: https://www.surgeactivism.org/articles/this-coerced-vegans-eat-animal-products Accessed 2022-09-12.
10 Bowler, H. (2021): Meat-free brand This sponsors Quorn in Veganuary marketing stunt. The Drum. Available at: https://www.thedrum.com/news/2021/12/14/meat-free-brand-sponsors-quorn-veganuary-marketing-stunt Accessed 2022-09-12.
11 Chiorando, M. (2021): Comedy Phone Helpline Set Up For Brits Struggling With Veganuary. Plant Based News. Available at: https://plantbasednews.org/lifestyle/food/comedy-phone-helpline-set-up-for-brits-struggling-with-veganuary/ Accessed 2022-09-12.
12 Harris Interactive / Toluna (2021): Brand Values Matter As Nearly 80% Of People Choose Brands Aligned To Their Personal Values – Research Reveals. Available at: https://harris-interactive.co.uk/press/brand-values-matter-as-nearly-80-of-people-choose-brands-aligned-to-their-personal-values-research-reveals/ Accessed 2022-08-29.

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