• Transform magazine
  • November 28, 2022

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Rebel, alchemist or optimist: three ways to ride the next wave of food brands

Shift Zoran Svetlicic RGB

Zoran Svetlicic, partner at Singaporean agency Shift, discusses the rise of alt-protein food brands in the Southeast Asian city-state and how their strategies differ.

With Big Food increasingly looking like Big Tobacco these days, the world is ready for a new wave of food brands. One such wave is coming from the alt-protein space with a frothy $5bn raised last year alone.

Being based in Singapore has given us a front row seat to the transformation. The combination of progressive government regulation, a food-driven culture, and, let’s face it, the lack of a farm lobby has made the city-state a global center of food innovation. It is still the only place in the world you can order a lab-grown chicken nugget to be delivered to your door (spoiler alert: it’s pretty good).

Most of the major alt-protein players in the world – whether plant-based, fermented, or cultivated – have Singapore in their sights. We’ve watched their branding strategies closely and found that they fall into three broad categories.

The Rebel

Rebel brands define themselves by their opposition to the established order. Perhaps the obvious move for early entrants such as Oatly with their “Wow no cow” messaging and distressed stencil look, the strategy is still alive and well. Witness the clenched revolutionary fists and pitchforks of Otis, or the early Billy Idol-esque attitude baked into everything at NotCo from their C-suite bio photos to the portfolio of NotMilk, NotBurgers, and NotChicken.

Being against something is always a quick way to gain attention. The question that remains for us is whether these brands will ever be able to normalize their rebellion enough to reach mainstream scale crucial to making the economics of the category work.

The Alchemist

The starting point of Alchemist brands are their magically transformative, and heavily trademarked, ingredients. Mere mortals aren’t capable of understanding the specifics, but should trust that the brands have done the, well, Impossible™ for them. Meati™ has tamed mycorrhizal networks into food with Good Energy™. Every™ starts with DNA sequencing to make Every Protein™ and Every EggWhite™.

Having a genuine product innovation is great, especially as an ingredient, but risks scaring people off with too much science and too little taste. Which is why Next Gen Foods launched as Tindle and talks about how “ridiculously good” their chicken is, leaving the proprietary chicken fat tech to the FAQs.

The Optimist

Optimists start with higher ideals. They don’t knock the competition, they don’t dwell on the details, they just make it effortless to do the right thing. To look on the Oatside of life. To have a Perfect Day. Not to mess with the planet, but just let Yellowstone National Park do its thing through Nature’s Fynd. Cute bears, warm hues, and aspirational culinary advisors come with the package.

Presenting this progressive stand in a lighter way makes it less preachy and more accessible. Whether people will care or see it as aloof remains to be seen.

Where to next?

The early patterns we’re seeing in Singapore offer some useful lessons. However, launching on a 700 km squared island full of rich, novelty-seeking foodies is one thing. Scaling across the region and world is another.

Will the rebels prevail or follow the playbook of most aging rock stars and be subsumed into Big Food (Kraft American NotCheese we’re looking at you!)? Will the alchemists find a way to connect to people’s tastebuds? Will the optimists find a tangible footing? We don’t know, but will certainly keep watching the wave.