“Alternatives” shouldn’t be marketed as alternatives – quite the contrary, actually.

On the road to mainstream popularity, the food–that will help save our ecosystem–needs to stand up for itself to become relevant. Naming is a good place to start.

Simulate, Beyond Meat, Remilk, NotCo, Rebellyous, Future Farm… There is no shortage of companies producing alternative proteins. New brands emerge almost monthly, launching one innovative product after the other.

Some have managed to get noticeable investments and good press coverage. Still, the industry is struggling to go mainstream.

Nestlé recently scrapped Wunda and Garden Gourmet, while Innocent pulled its plant-based milk from the shelves. Why? They are still an alternative, a substitute; to many people, that is too much of a compromise.

Don’t remind me of what I’m missing out on

Remilk, Simulate, Like Meat, Unmeat. These brands share one thing; they emphasise being a substitute. It is a rational way of thinking. We’re kind of like meat, but not really, so let’s communicate that. However, it is pretty ineffective from a communication perspective, as consumers don’t think the same linear way. We want to be seduced. We want to feel it’s delicious. And we don’t want to compromise.

To actively substitute meat with a plant-based alternative might work with a few ethically-driven consumers, but taking alternative protein mainstream will require a different approach. Kombucha didn’t become popular by being kind of a wine but by being something entirely different.

In the name of taste and experience

A great consumer brand sparks emotions. It tells a story, stands out and sticks in my mind. Rational names are often descriptive, direct and easy to understand. But they also have their limitations. “Brownish sugary liquid” doesn’t taste as well as Pepsi. “Fizz & Fun” wouldn’t work either. It seems like many companies forgot about taste and emotions when developing their plant protein brands.

Recently, we had the privilege of working with start-up Mwah!, making cashew-based gelato. When defining its name, the company wanted to speak directly to the tastebuds, not the brain. Mwah! is the chef’s kiss and the ultimate gesture of superior taste experiences. It tells several stories and doesn’t limit the brand. Cashew Cow_ard simply wasn’t an option.

Naming isn’t the solution to lasting growth, but it is an excellent place to start. Tesla succeeded by normalising the electric car. If Elon Musk had called in Gasolinish, it wouldn’t be as cool.

As long as brands keep marketing their products as substitutes, they will be just that. And who wants to buy the second-best thing? Instead, brands should focus on what makes them the best thing in their own right. And name it as such.