How to succeed in plant-based?

Key learnings to avoid the most common failure factors by understanding the FourFactors® of Success

“Plant based brands accused of creating a category failure, maybe one of the biggest in food history”

In a recent report about failures in plant-based foods by NNB, its editor Julian Mellentin observes that the same mistakes that we see from the plant-based foods category today were seen already 20 years ago from the then hyped functional foods category. And yes that is unfortunately true but the good thing is that same success factors still apply.

Let me explain. 20 years ago, in 2003 Julian and I co-wrote the “Food & Health Marketing Handbook” with the subtitle “How to commercialize innovations in food & health”. It was based on NNBs observations of market failures from the first generation of functional foods and paired with my analysis model of the success factors – The FourFactors® of Success that was later brought into a consumer driven brand innovation framework The FourFactors® Brand Acceleration System that was picked up by leading international players like TetraPak, Nestle and DSM in global training and co-creation programs.


Learning nr. 1:

The value chain starts in the mind of the consumer at the point of purchase.

The initial FourFactors® are very simple. They are based on four questions that relate to what goes through the mind of your target consumer at the point of purchase. “ Do I…”

  1. 1. Need the product?
  2. 2. Accept the ingredient?
  3. 3. Understand the benefit?
  4. 4. Trust the brand?

With these four questions you can health check your product concept using simple consumer logic. But who is your consumer target? NNB notes in its new report that the consumer market is fragmented – and yes, it is. In our words: it is segmented. And the segmentation is based on consumers’ need for and attitude to innovations in food (whether it involves health or sustainability or both).


Learning Nr. 2:

There’s not just ONE consumer

The most dangerous sentence is “THE consumer”. Startups are too often blinded by the product innovation and its appeal to the world, ie THE consumer, where they mirror themselves. But the key to success and the right market entry strategy is to target the right consumer in the Innovation Lifecycle with the right message.

We have identified four different stakeholders from Technology to Late Mass market. By naming them stakeholders we indicate that they include both consumers and all others who you need to win for your new innovation. They are in order of appearance:

  1. 1. Technology Stakeholders (Innovators)
  2. 2. Lifestyle Stakeholders (Early Adopters)
  3. 3. Early Mass market Stakeholders
  4. 4. Late Mass market Stakeholders

Most startups and scale ups in the plant based category as well as in the functional foods category are driven by the first two stakeholders. The Technology and the Lifestyle Stakeholders. This is where we find those who have invested in your innovation and who believe in your vision. These are the early adopters and your first market. In the case of Oatly they started ten years ago by bonding with the growing Vegan movement and proclaimed boldly on their packaging “Yes, we are vegan, so what?”. From a commercial perspective you are clearly in a niche. And the way to grow a niche is to expand within the same niche and find your early adopters internationally. Same rules apply for a functional foods brand as for a plant-based brand. But what if you want to grow into the mass market?

Learning nr. 3:

How to bridge the chasm that separates the early adopter niche from the mass market consumer.

In the Food & Health Marketing Handbook I wrote about the Technology Push represented by the first two stakeholders that is met by the Consumer Pull needed to be accepted by the mass-market stakeholders. Between these two there is a chasm that will engulf all brands who don’t manage the transition from Push to Pull.

One critical failure factor identified by NNB is that many brands go to mass market too soon. A quick check with the FourFactors® on an Early Mass market consumer would have prevented that. But unfortunately, even some of our clients have been tempted to jump into the arms of retail too soon, although we have warned them. Because it is your job to generate demand. Understanding the drivers for mass market before making the jump, will help maximize your chances for success. Generate demand is the first challenge you will face and then comes the crucial success factor for mass market entry: Taste, texture and familiarity of the product format. Plant-based brands, just like any other brand, can be successful when they understand and address these factors. But there’s more triggers and barriers involved, which we discovered in a research project together with our Applied Cultural Analysis team from Lund university, Sweden.


Learning 4:

You need to understand the Triggers and Barriers for mass market entry

The triggers can be easily identified with the FourFactors® analysis of your target mass market consumer as they relate to:

  1. 1. Awareness
  2. 2. Acceptance
  3. 3. Familiarity and
  4. 4. Availability

So in a nutshell it means that the mass market consumer has heard about you, they accept your new innovation that comes in familiar and convenient formats that’s available where they normally go shopping.

An example of how these triggers work is eg Oat milk where oat is widely accepted as a healthy food and the awareness of oat milk is high in most western markets (The opposite is true for Soy and soy milk in Eastern markets). It comes in familiar dairy formats that’s available where you shop your dairy products. So what about hemp milk? Pea milk?

But the barriers still remain and these are the ones that makes the your consumer buy your product.. again:

  1. 1. Antipathy
  2. 2. Complicated nutrition
  3. 3. Taste compromise
  4. 4. Price compromise

This simply means you are selling food, not politics. Your product brings easy to understand nutrition ie “free from bad and full of good” and ideally no strange or unknown ingredients. It must taste good of course but taste also means familiar flavours. Finally the price compromise means that you cannot be too premium in a retail environment. So a recommendation to a client start up or scale up can be: Don’t go mass. Stay with your early adopters and manage your niche brand in premium distribution channels to keep a healthy price point.

A good advice. When you bring a new idea to the market: Go for value, not for volume.


Summary: How to be a winner in the Plant-Based Market:

Develop the market stakeholder by stakeholder. The desired progression can be described as follows:

  1. 1. The Technology Stakeholders will help you educate the Visionary Lifestyle stakeholders
  2. 2. Bond with the needs and beliefs of the Lifestyle stakeholders, who are the early adopters, so that they can serve as good references to the more pragmatic Early Mass market stakeholders.
  3. 3. Develop aspirational solutions for the Early mass market stakeholders respecting all the triggers and barriers for mass market entry, which will help to normalize your new product/category for Late mass market consumers.
  4. 4. To become a commodity for the Late mass market may not be your ambition since it will involve a lower price point. You can bet that private label will beat you to this stakeholders.

If you want to know more and UP your game in plant-based, For more information about the FourFactors® of Success go to or have a look at the FourFactors® training which is fully available to take online or the FourFactors® book available here.