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Franchising Industry Updates

Before Jumping into the Plant-Based Food and Beverage Market, Test the Waters First

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For food and beverage franchises to succeed in the booming plant-based and vegan markets, trying to get the taste, feel, packaging and market placement right is everything. (iStock.com/vaaseenaa)

Consumers are quick to call out brands when they make a mistake. Their reactions are quick and sometimes brutal, bringing down products in the blink of an eye. New products bring added skepticism, and in emerging markets like plant-based and vegan products, consumers are at the ready to voice their opinion via every type of social media channel.

Recent food and beverage franchise “oops” moments include Hardee’s Beyond Burger plant-based meat burger which was unfortunately paired with an egg-containing burger bun — not a vegan-friendly option for consumers who wanted to be excited about it. And what about Pizza Hut’s plant-based pepperoni pizza unveiled in the UK, but without vegan cheese to match?

You may remember some other product failures of the past, like New Coke, which was rolled out with much fanfare, and then disappeared. Others were so bad they were barely a blip on the food and beverage radar. Do you recall Heinz’ purple and green squirt ketchup or the super unappealing Jimmy Dean chocolate chip pancake-wrapped sausages?

These and other failures have found a resting place in the food and beverage museum of colossal mistakes, a place you do not want your product to reside.

New Product Best Practices

You may wonder why these major brands didn’t test their products or do consumer research before introducing them to market. Well, they probably did do some testing, but obviously not enough. Or maybe they didn’t test the products in a variety of markets, or for a long enough time frame. The bottom line is, testing has to be done, and it has to be done in a specific way using the current best practices.

For food and beverage franchises to succeed in the booming plant-based and vegan markets, trying to get the taste, feel, packaging and market placement right is everything. Franchises should embrace testing as an essential part of the product’s creation, and if testing reveals problems, brands can use the experience as a way to learn and adapt to consumer tastes. Setting up and implementing testing protocols are a valuable and necessary aspect in any new product launch strategy.

Best practices for launching vegan and plant-based products include:

  • Capitalize on changing consumer tastes and market demands by starting small. If your franchise is new to the vegan or plant-based market, the first thing is to do your research and become familiar with what is trending, not trendy. Find out what products are solid money-makers for other franchises and investigate whether any of the top sellers are a match with your brand.
  • Pick one or two products as an entrance into the plant-based marketplace. Franchises that stick close to their original branding have a better chance of generating a positive reaction than franchises who branch out too far, possibly turning off loyal customers. If your franchise is known for chicken nuggets, a meat-free nugget made from plant-based ingredients is a good starting point. Similarly, a burger place might start with a vegan burger or completely vegan fries (made with only plant-based ingredients and cooked in vegetable oil).
  • Prepare the new product over and over to make sure it is consistent in taste, texture, feel and overall appearance. Consumers like variety, but they also like to know their food is going to taste and look the same each time they order that item. Food franchises really set the bar for consistency in our food expectations, and plant-based and vegan consumers are no different. They want their food to be good every time.
  • Test. Test. Test. Testing with consumer groups is nothing new, but it’s still a practice that works. If you have ever been to a mall, or a big-box store (pre-COVID-19), you were probably asked to taste a new product by a smiling, chef’s apron-wearing brand ambassador. These activities are what brands do after the product has already entered the market.

The testing that goes on before this stage is usually comprised of small groups gathered in an office space, or test kitchen where samples of the product are served, and then tasters are observed and comments are collected. Testers ask participants about everything from presentation, to packaging, color, smell, feel and taste.

In each case, comments are entered into a database, and then compiled into a master report from each testing location. Smart franchises read and study these reports carefully to determine what they are doing right and what can be improved. Some testing periods are a few weeks and some are conducted over a period of months.

If your food and beverage franchise brand is considering entering the plant-based or vegan market that’s great. But be prepared for lots of competition and lots of research to get it right. The end result, however, could be financially rewarding.

Heather Ripley is CEO of Ripley PR, a global public relations agency specializing in B2B and franchising. Orange Orchard, a division of Ripley PR, champions franchisors that cater to environmentally-conscious consumers. For additional information, visit www.ripleypr.com or www.orangeorchardpr.com.

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