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Webinar summary: Convenience by Design – How to make plant-based products easy for consumers

(1 min read)

ProVeg International recently hosted a webinar on plant-based convenience foods. The webinar featured a panel of industry experts, including Nora Henning, Test and Lean Innovation Leader and Lean Startup Coach at Nestlé, Miguel Serrano, CEO of Vidyalto; and Pascal Bieri, Co-Founder of Planted. This webinar will give you and your company a comprehensive understanding of how you can integrate convenience into your product lines and your marketing messaging and how this can influence consumers’ purchasing decisions. Check out our events page to attend our next webinar.

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What does convenience mean?

Convenience is about making people’s lives simple…It is not a feature. Convenience is a mindset.”

Miguel Serrano

CEO of Vidyalto

The panellists quickly establish a definition of convenience, agreeing that it’s all about making the consumer’s life easier and communicating the product’s vital information clearly and simply.

Nora points out that when considering what it means for a product to be convenient, we must account for which demographic the product is targeting. Differences in age and gender, for example, make huge differences in what convenience means and how convenient products can be developed.

Garden gourmet plant-based egg
Garden Gourmet’s plant-based egg product, developed by Nestlé [1]

When developing plant-based convenience products, brands must also take care to consider whether they are targeting vegetarians, flexitarians, or vegans with their product. Nora uses an example of Garden Gourmet’s plant-based egg product. Vegetarians and flexitarians, who may often consume chicken eggs, will find various uses for the egg and cook it differently compared to a vegan who may not have cooked with eggs for years. The groups will rate the plant-based egg differently based on how much experience they have with traditional eggs, and this may impact sales. As such, it is vital to keep your target consumer in mind throughout all the stages of product development.

Pascal notes how his brand Planted is more involved with food service than with retail, where convenience has a slightly different meaning. A Planted product made to be convenient for gastronomy – by having no marinades or flavouring, for example – would not be convenient for a private consumer looking for a pre-flavoured product to throw in their favourite recipe. For Planted, a lot of product development is focused on plant-based meat alternatives which are easy to cook and maintain their meat-like texture.

Communicating convenience to the consumer

A key part of communicating convenience to the consumer involves making it clear what they can do with the product and how to easily do it. The panellists are asked what sort of techniques they find most valuable in communicating convenience to their target audience.

Miguel draws on his experience at Nestlé, highlighting the different roles of retail and food service in communicating to the consumer. Convenience products, he argues, need to solve technical problems, and the packaging must make these solutions clear.

woman looking at product's packaging
Convenience must be clearly communicated on the product’s packaging[2]

According to Miguel, there are four key aspects of convenience that a product must communicate:

  1. Range of methods

Make all the ways they can cook the product obvious to the consumer. Can you bake it or pan fry it? Should you steam it or microwave it? The information should be clear.

  1. Fast and easy to cook

Communicate how fast it takes to cook a product. For example “three minutes in the microwave” or “ten minutes in the pan”.

  1. Versatile usage

Show the consumer all the different ways that they can use your product, such as in sauce or a filling.

  1. Easy to serve

Increase product use by linking to key recipes that consumers can rotate throughout their weekly mealtimes, including staples such as spaghetti bolognese. 

People normally cook ten dishes and then repeat the same things. Give consumers ideas with your plant-based products. That’s where the link between retail and food service comes in to help.”

Miguel Serrano

CEO of Vidyalto

Food service, he says, helps to provide consumers with ideas on how to cook and present the product at home, creates buzz, accentuates taste and promotes versatility and utility – all the elements needed to successfully sell convenience products.

Similarly, Nora underscores the importance of showing consumers the possible recipe opportunities. “[Consumers] don’t want to buy just one ingredient, they want a meal. You need to communicate this.”

Creating research-driven convenience products

Pascal highlights again how important it is to keep your target consumer in mind. Flexitarians, for example, would like to see how plant-based products can be utilised in the same way as animal-based products and meals, so it is vital to also communicate this aspect.

Trying to think with usage and recipes in mind has a huge effect on the R&D process. Nora draws on her experience developing a plant-based tuna product which consumers wanted to use in a vast variety of ways – from being fried in the pan, to being mixed raw within a salad, to being baked in an oven – just like traditional tuna.

preparing food
Brands must consider all the ways that consumers might use their product while cooking.[3]

Pascal agrees, commenting on a Planted plant-based chicken alternative which needed to be redeveloped after they discovered it tasted too bitter in combination with tomato sauce. “You never know what the consumer is going to use [your product] for,” says Pascal. Brands need to commit to the research process to establish all the possible ways a consumer might cook and eat your product, and develop it accordingly. 

Try it out. Try it out from different perspectives: from vegans, to vegetarians, to chefs. Try to taste it, to cook it and to experiment with the product before you launch it. You will identify a lot of things in these discussions that will be very useful for you, moving forward.”

Miguel Serrano

CEO of Vidyalto

The research process does not end with the finished product, however. Nora insists that consumer research within the aisles of the supermarket is just as important. Referring back to Garden Gourmet’s egg replacement, she notes how difficult it was to market a product which has so many different uses, such as making scrambled eggs or baking a cake. Having trialled two different kinds of packaging, Nestlé discovered that simpler marketing which focused on one use sold more than an approach that tried to cover all bases. This led Nora and her team to realise that releasing a range of egg products which each focus on a specific, tailor-made use would be a more intelligent way to market their product, rather than combining all uses into one.

When marketing convenience products, it’s important not only to focus on what sort of recipe the consumer will use a product for, but also what the driving purchase factors are . For example, a consumer may purchase a product for taste, health, to be more sustainable, or purely because of how convenient it is.

Miguel insists that consumer research must establish this hierarchy of purchasing motivations among your target consumers, as this will help you to communicate the top-ranking motivations most clearly. “If speed of preparation is the driving factor for purchase, then we will put it on front-of-pack, because it’s relevant.”

Key convenience food advice

The panellists identify two key pieces of advice in marketing new convenience products.

  1. Allow consumers to add their own touch

People want to feel as if they are creating a dish authentically and creatively. Try to avoid making your convenience product seem too fake or restrictive in what consumers can do with it.

By linking your product to recipes, you can help consumers feel like they have more control over their meals, even by adding their own simple ingredients like chopped onions.

  1. Spark ideas in the consumer’s mind at point of sale

Cooking and meal-prepping can be a stressful and anxiety-inducing process for many consumers. If consumers don’t know how they might use your convenience product, they will feel less inclined to buy it.

Take away this stress by jumpstarting ideas in their mind as to what they might be able to make with your product as soon as they see it on the shelf. This could be as simple as having a dish in the product name (“curry sauce” instead of “sauce”) or having a picture of a dish on the packaging.

Q+As

What are some of the key approaches your company uses to get into the mind of the consumer? Which approaches have been the most insightful for you?

“Just add in the word ‘new’,” Miguel says. “Early adopters love this, and it really boosts sales.”

Nora suggests growth hacking is a useful way to figure out what consumers want, meaning that they embrace creative and low-cost strategies wherever possible to gain consumer insight. She describes how her company places advertisements on social-media, searching for individuals who might want to help “co-create” their product and then reaching out to those who signed up and were already engaged with the process. They were able to gain invaluable consumer insight in this way, with the social-media ad spend cost a total of just €500.

Have any of you seen cultural differences across countries with demand for convenience food? Do certain markets prefer convenience?

The panellists unanimously agreed that social and cultural context is central to what convenience means to consumers.

Miguel tells us about a workshop he attended in Hungary, where he ordered sandwiches for the attendees to eat while they continued to workshop – a choice based around convenience. When the boss of the Hungarian company saw the sandwiches, however, he told Miguel he would prefer it if they could all have a proper, sit-down meal over lunch so they could socialise and connect. In this case, convenience was not the right choice. Miguel explains further:

Convenience is not always the driver. … It’s important we dive into the cultures [we market to]. Food, eating, social interactions, gender roles, familial roles, togetherness. Once we understand all these things deeply, we can apply the value proposition corresponding to that.”

Miguel Serrano

CEO of Vidyalto

Similarly, Pascal reminds us that “food is super local”, and there are always different cultural nuances to keep in mind when creating and marketing a product for convenience. Such nuances can be as simple as the name of your product and the way a consumer might wish to use it. Nora recommends companies make small adaptations in product name and instructions based on local understandings.

Plant-based experts discussing strategy over food
 Some consumers might enjoy eating convenience food over a work lunch. Others might not. It’s all about social and cultural context.[4]

Where is it most effective for companies to put their money when developing plant-based convenience products, especially for smaller start-ups with restricted funding?

All the panellists agree that creating a quality product is the most important thing you can do, and hence the most money should be put into the R&D stage.

Nora warns against “falling in love with your idea at the expense of the consumer’s needs”, reminding brands that products need to not only be good, but also need to target a gap in the market or a particular consumer niche.

The biggest reason why products fail is because you create something nobody wants or needs.”

Nora Henning

Test and Lean Innovation Leader and Lean Startup Coach at Nestlé

In Pascal’s words, “Have pride in the product that you’re making, put a lot of resources into R&D. That’s not always expensive. The product needs to be killer, so do everything you can to make it.”

Aside from creating a great and useful product, Miguel emphasises the power of good storytelling. “Spend your money wisely,” he says, “but spend a bit on telling your story wisely and connecting with your consumers.”

Have any of you seen major changes over the past 5-10 years in terms of what consumers want from convenience foods?

According to Miguel, the younger generation has a vastly different lifestyle with different associated needs. This includes an increase in on-the-go consumption and a rise in healthy snacking. He reminds us once again, however, that many trends are culturally dependent.

Key takeaways

According to Pascal, there are many ways for a product to be convenient. It all comes back to understanding who your target consumer is.

Test it, test it, test it, and make the best product possible. … Test it with consumers and look at the data.”

Pascal Bieri

Co-Founder of Planted

Miguel goes even further to suggest that the most effective way of embracing what he calls the “convenience mindset” is by hiring an in-house ‘Head of Convenience’. This person would always have the consumer perspective at the forefront of their mind, and would constantly challenge your company to put convenience first.

It is certain that convenience plays a central role within the plant-based food industry today. If you’d like to watch the full recording of this webinar to learn even more, click here

Our panellists touched on many topics in this webinar, including storytelling as a marketing device and the rise in healthy snacking among consumers. If you’re interested in learning more about these trends and how best to capitalise upon them, make sure to watch ProVeg International’s webinar ‘How to position plant-based foods to maximise their appeal’. 

Do you still want more information on how to expand your plant-based range and grow your business? If so, make sure that you regularly visit ProVeg International’s New Food Hub to find out all the ways you can accelerate your company’s transition to net zero, increase your profits, and help build a better world!

Check out our article on this topic

Dive deeper into this topic by checking out our comprehensive article. It’s full of actionable insights to communicate convenience to the consumer.

References

References
1 Image source: Nestlé
2 Image Source: Adobe Stock/ eldarnurkovic
3 Image source: Getty Images Signature
4 Image source: Adobe/ wavebreak3

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