Table of Contents
  • Plant-based market research
  • FMCG consumer trends review
  • Plant-based trends research
  • Customer experience research
  • My own vegetarian experience
  • Brand platform
  • Marketing mix
Hi there!

Today, I will describe a comprehensive case study I earned while working at CPG company. Reading further, you will know:

  1. How to launch an effective consumer feedback system based on a mobile ethnography approach.
  2. How to combine various research types to create an effective marketing strategy.
  3. How we developed and tested 5 various brands’ hypotheses with my team to choose the most suitable using the Design Thinking instruments
  4. Deep consumer insights in the plant-based category.

The case study is closely connected with the Integra сorporate rebranding case study, where I describe how I tried to transform corporate culture in CPG company, what was successfully implemented, what failed, and why. Also, the GoodMonica dairy brand launch case study is welcome to read if you want to understand better how to launch new brands and products using the design thinking approach.
In 2017, I was invited to participate as a marketing and branding professional for a CPG company from the Saratov region. The company’s significant business was meat processing. Also, they had small plant-based manufacturing.
The owners wanted to diversify their business, grow plant-based category market share, and launch dairy private label products. Also, they planned to relaunch a corporate and employer brand to bring promising specialists into the company.
The owners and CEO set me two main goals in that direction. First, determine the potential of a plant-based category and detect what products are the most attractive and for what target audience segments. Second. Research the current plant-based brand to understand its target audience segment perception and develop an up-to-date brand strategy, packaging design, and go-to-market plan.

There was no new venture marketing department at all. I had to recruit and train a team from scratch and build innovative product development processes.
The plant-based office consisted of only sales, logistics, and manufacturing departments. Because it had no marketing or brand team, there was no market research, target audience segments’ description, or brand positioning. The marketing area looked like a clean sheet of paper.

This was the three pieces of data that I needed to get first:

1. Market data

  • Plant-based product categories’ volume
  • Categories opportunities and risks according to our business strengths and weaknesses
  • Brands' market share (including ours)
  • What SKUs were sold better, and why

2. FMCG and plant-based category trends

  • Global
  • Local

3. Consumer insights

  • Why and how people buy plant-based products
  • Consumer’s perception of our brand compared with competitors’ brands
  • What target audience segments are the most attractive for our business, and why
  • What consumer trends are relevant to our category

I started to answer questions by diving into all these blurred areas step by step.
4.1. Plant-based market research
First, I bought all the retail data sales from a retail research company and determined we were in 4th place in the brand’s market share. Well, now we had a starting point in exact numbers.
Our analytical team also determined the whole category and every sub-category volume.
According to the above analysis, our most attractive niches were the fresh and fermented vegetable categories because of their growth and high margins. We also found data showed us that Ready to Cook and Ready to Eat segments grow 7% annually globally and 20% annually in Russia.

I started writing down all the questions I wanted to answer later to create an effective go-to-market plan:

  • What innovative products should we launch first in the fresh and chilled category?
  • What products in Ready to Cook and Ready to Eat are the most attractive according to our business possibilities?
  • How much money and time do we need to launch these products?
  • How to set and promote new consumers’ behavior in the fresh and chilled category?
4.2. FMCG consumer trends review
Besides market research, I needed a global FMCG sector helicopter view. Before starting, I determined 3 main questions to get answers:

  • What is going on in the world in consumer behavior in FMCG?
  • How will it change in the next 3-5 years, and how can it influence our category?
  • What is the most crucial shift in consumer behavior that we can implement in our category?

While studying all available FMCG reports, I determined 7 crucial trends we can rely on in our future marketing strategy. Also, I asked myself some questions to specify how exactly our brands will match those trends.

1. Environmental problems stimulate the shift to responsible consumption. Businesses shift from a profit maximization model to a balance with the environment.

How might we transform our business model to remain profitable but more sustainable?

2. Some countries and companies have set sustainable development goals.
  • What goals can our business participate in?
  • How can we transform our culture and processes to implement those goals?
  • What ecological organizations can be our partners and friends during this journey?

3. Generational change. Gen Y and Gen Z take the stage.

  • What is important for Gen Y and Z in the plant-based category?
  • How can our brands be relevant for new generations?

4. People do not have time for routine and shopping.

What products and services can we develop that save peoples’ time and make their consumption more comfortable?

5. Retail is searching for new formats to meet people’s needs. For example, some cafes were placed inside shops. The Ready to Eat and Ready to Cook categories are developing very fast.

  • How can we help our partners (retail chains) grow their profit by selling our products using new formats?
  • What do we need to enter the Ready to Eat and Ready to Cook categories?

6. The health value in Russia is higher than the global average. Almost half of Russian consumers are looking to buy healthy foods. More than a third of consumers are willing to overpay for healthy products.

  • Can we spread the natural composition approach to all our product lines?
  • Can we develop new natural products and communicate this benefit through packaging?

7. Consumers want more additional rational benefits from food: more protein, nutrients, and vitamins.

— How can we add those additional benefits to our products?
4.3. Plant-based trends research
The third part of the obscure area was the plant-based category’s global and local trends. Because the category was not so large compared with other FMCG categories, only a few reports were available, and they were too superficial. Companies such as Nielsen and Ipsos offered to do the research, but the price didn’t suit my marketing budget.

That is why I hired enthusiastic chef Ivan Dubkov to understand deeper worldwide plant-based category trends. After three weeks of work, he provided a comprehensive report, which helped us find future product development directions.
So, what insights did I determine as more relevant to our situation?

First, Ivan found the data that three growing product plant-based categories were growing: salad kits, salad bowls, and smoothie sets. The most significant increase of 52% annually showed the salad kits category. So, he approved the same Ready to Eat and Ready to Cook products trend we found in the market analysis stage through another research.
Salad kits product lines were presented by the biggest plant-based brands in the US and EU: Fresh Express, Dole, and Ready Pac (which was bought by Bonduelle in 2017 for 800 million $).

Second, he found interesting data about healthy food consumption. Health and healthy products in Russia were more valuable than in the EU and the US.

Third, people were starting to appreciate these products:

  • Superfoods
  • Protein-rich products
  • Products that improve digestion (probiotics, etc., fermented products)
  • Health and wellness products (fermented products)

Again, we wrote down questions that we needed to answer:

  • What do we need to develop and produce salad kits, bowls, and smoothie sets?
  • What kind of manufacturing should we build to meet consumer demand? What type of equipment should we buy?
  • What will be the payback period for such a venture?

Except for global trends, I had to understand local food consumption trends. Because I wanted to get closer to the target audience, I decided to communicate with people personally to feel their needs better.

First, I needed a helicopter view to understand how families in different regions of Russia consume plant-based food. I chose mobile ethnography as a method to solve that challenge.

I picked the most economically developed areas and advertised to local groups on social networks with invitations to participate in the research. At that stage, I needed a person to do that research and establish permanent feedback, collecting consumers’ feedback.
4.4. Customer Experience Research
Fortunately, the HR department found an experienced researcher, Dmitry, who immediately accepted my offer to join my team. So, the professional researcher became the first part of my innovative marketing team.

Together, we selected 35 families from different regions and gave them a task: they must share all information about their food purchases and consumption (including cooking) for two weeks.

This method, called Mobile Ethnography, lets you get a broad range of product, brand, and communication insights. To use it, you don’t need such platforms like Indeemo, QualSights, Ethos, etc. All you need is a familiar for your target audience mobile messenger, a bit of wit, and sound logic.

The advantage of the method is that you can ask additional questions at any CJM point. Moreover, you can get a lot of photo and video content, which is a treasure for business. Here are 9 steps to implement mobile ethnography research.
We used WhatsApp messenger to share all information and to ask clarifying questions. So, when the research was done, we had a massive amount of data with customer insights not only in the plant-based category but also in adjacent product categories.

We also started interviewing target audience segments to get more specific customer insights. After we finished, we had complete information — customer drivers and barriers depending on target audience segment, product, branding, and communication customer insights. And now I’m going to share it with you! Let’s start with the target audience segments.
4.5. Target Audience Segments
We’ve discovered 4 main target audience segments.

Vegans. Those fellas maintain a vegetable diet for ideological or medical reasons. This is a narrow but very relevant segment. Plant-based products fit this segment a priori.

Healthy People. People who stick to or try to stick to a healthy food diet. Low-calorie products and the presence of minerals and vitamins are essential for them. Often do sports 3-4 times a week. The segment is small, concentrated mainly in big-city agglomerations.

Caring Housewives. Working child-free women and moms who don’t have much time to cook. But at the same time, they like to cook, so they show their love and care. Take care of their family's healthy nutrition.

Active City Dwellers. People living in big cities, building careers, striving for development, and sticking to an active lifestyle in conditions of lack of time, stress, and poor ecology. Innovators. Love products that emphasize their active lifestyle. Love aesthetically attractive products. This was an attractive segment for our business in terms of both volume and revenue.

We calculated every segment volume to predict our potential revenue depending on our market share.
Unfortunately, we didn’t identify the number of people in the “Healthy People” segment, so it was obscured from our eyes. But we recognized the volume of the most attractive segment — the “Active City Dwellers.” Also, we discovered a fascinating insight.
If we sell one SKU for every vegan in the country, we will double our revenue.
So, even though the plant-based category is attractive for vegans a priori, we can highlight our brand for them by designing a special product line or launching a specific advertising campaign.

I wrote down these questions to answer in future marketing strategy:

  • What target segment are our competitors betting on?
  • What segment should we identify as a core for our brand?
  • Should we rival for the same segment or differentiate and choose another one?

I also decided to empower our target audience segments understanding by diving into Gen Y and Gen Z generation trends. According to this data, those two generations will represent 70% of the working population by 2025. So, it is crucial to consider their generational values in developing long-term marketing strategy.
Questions to answer in future marketing strategy:

  • What products can we create to support those generations’ values?
  • What attributes and features valuable to new generations should our brand have?
4.6. Customer insights

I defined the main customer insights based on the target audiences' interviews.

The primary consumption of plant-based products in Russia was dinner. Most of the households cooked salads as an addition to the main dishes.

The second place was breakfast, where people used plant-based ingredients to cook sandwiches and smoothies.

And the third consumption situation was going out in the countryside and nature (barbeque in particular).

5 main product insights
1. Fermented plant-based products were not only consumed as a perfect snack for strong alcoholic beverages (like vodka) but also as a product that supports the skin's beauty.

— What brand can we create, and what product lines to position the product as beneficial for skin health?
— Can we shift fermented plant-based products from a food category to a health and beauty category to differentiate from competitors and add value to our brand?

2. People pay attention not only to the freshness of plant-based products but also to the product's aesthetics: for example, how beautifully the colors of salad mixes are combined.

— How can we mix leaves to create the most colorful salads?
— What ingredients can we add to create more colorful mixes?

3. Unique taste combinations inspired people.

— What unique taste combinations can we develop to be the most tasty and original brand on the market?

4. People from big cities value more products that help them to reduce cooking time.

— What product lines should we develop to save consumers’ cooking and shopping time?
— What features can we add to our products to make consuming more comfortable for our customers?
— Can we expand our business model by including new touch points with customers like salad bars and salad vending machines in business centers and supermarkets?

5. Health benefits are an integral part of the plant-based category, so it is unnecessary to base a brand positioning on these benefits.

— Can we focus less on rational benefits like freshness, naturality, nutrients, etc., in our brand communications? If yes, how can we?

4.7. My own vegetarian experience
Despite receiving insights, I wanted to dive deeper into vegans’ target audience segment's way of life and their needs. So, I decided to try what it is to live without meat consumption. I was wondering what difficulties such people face. I understood that it was too much for me to stick to a straight vegan diet, but the vegetarian option was quite acceptable.

I followed a vegetarian diet for 320 days, which was an exciting experiment. I also refused alcohol for that period. During my path, I discovered such insights:

  • In the very beginning, I suffer from a lack of taste. But when I learned how to cook plant-based food properly, I was surprised that there was such a variety of tasty plant-based food if you know how to cook it right.
  • There are a lot of plant-based proteins suitable for people who prefer highly active lifestyles and extreme sports, like running, yoga, and others. But if we talk about sports like powerlifting and CrossFit, vegan and even vegetarian diets can be a challenge. In my case, my power performance was critically reduced in that period.
  • But, the opposite, my awareness raised considerably. I’m unsure if it is connected with a diet or the need for conscious choice of food and voluntary rejection of certain products.
  • My skin and digestion health improved, and my sleep was as deep as the child’s.

I also dived into the vegan and vegetarian communities and found beneficial habits like separate waste collection. I raised those questions based on my vegan environment research:

  • How can we teach people to prepare healthy and, at the same time, tasty, healthy plant-based food?
  • How can we add more protein to our plant-based products?
  • How can we help people be more aware and inspire them to participate in different sustainable initiatives?
  • How can we communicate plant-based product health benefits for our target audience segments? How can we inspire them to include our plant-based products in their daily life?
In parallel with all the research I mentioned above, we were diving into competitors’ brand positioning and packaging design. We also discovered many world-known benchmarks such as Fresh Express, Dole, Taylor, Bonduelle, and many other global and local brands.

My team scrutinized every part of every brand’s package design. We created a massive design map in Miro board to see the helicopter view picture.
As a result, we discovered all the design directions and determined all critical characteristics of each. Having those characteristics, we could create any brand character that we needed. But first, I had to develop a marketing strategy based on all the insights we discovered before. I developed a detailed marketing strategy, including business, marketing, brand, and communication goals, a brand platform, and a promotion plan.
To summarize all insights, I created a table that pointed out all the main semantic fields I discovered during various research instruments. This helped me to understand what benefits and meanings would be relevant for our target audience in brand positioning, communication, and packaging design.
The more any specific topic pops up during various studies, the more it shows that this topic is already a reality and there is demand for it in the market. The smaller number of references gives us the idea that this area still needs to be covered, and we can be the first to use it in marketing and communication.

Then, I had a vision of the leading brand efforts we could make and what to improve to differentiate from the competition. Based on consumer insights and generation trends, I developed a brand platform.
5.1. Brand platform
5.2. Marketing mix
I also developed a long-term marketing mix with specific actions at all touchpoints connecting the brand and people (clients, partners, and employees).

We also started to consider new sales channels and models directly in retail and other places visited often by our target audience: business centers, fitness clubs, etc. We made some concepts and found already existing solutions. Those formats could be profitable and also work for our brand awareness.

The people section is crucial for a business to implement a comprehensive marketing strategy. A marketing strategy based on customer understanding suggests that new actions must be taken. But implementing a new plan means changing all people's (employees, partners, and customers) behavior.

Often, a business needs a profound corporate culture transformation. Would you like to dive deeper into this process? In that case, you may be interested in my Integra сorporate rebranding case study, where I describe how I tried to transform corporate culture in CPG company, what was successfully implemented, what failed, and why.

All previous work was done by only three people: the project manager, the researcher, and me. But to implement such a great plan, I needed to grow my marketing team, so I started to hire people. Remember that I also had a diary category and was responsible for a corporate and HR brand.

In the next month, my department was empowered by a brand manager, a communications manager, a graphic designer, and a digital designer.

Finally, my team looked like this:
I assisted in separating our department from the parent company because its bureaucratic regulations considerably slowed our work.

When we created our work principles, effectiveness metrics increased at times. For example, we were concluding contracts and receiving funding 4 times faster than our colleagues from the main office. That was because our culture and processes were much closer to “teal” organizations than to “orange.”

But also with such advantages, we faced misunderstandings with the main office. Sometimes, I spent much more time negotiating with the main office and playing corporate games rather than combating the market competition. The company needed a severe transformation to compete with market leaders, and I always raised that question on the top level. You can read about it more in my Integra corporate brand development case study.
New Ventures Division team
Now, let’s move to one of the product marketing mix implementation parts — the packaging design stage. I want to show you a handy and effective way to develop and test packaging design concepts you can implement in your company!
Our packaging design development stage looked very unusual. Instead of creating one concept with one brand name, I made a disruptive framework allowing us to design and test various design concepts and give us consumer feedback quickly and straightforwardly.

But before we move to the graphic design part, it is necessary to say that during the packaging design stage, we thought not only about the “surface” but about all functional packaging parameters. For example, we have adapted the packaging characteristics to our manufacturing and logistics processes.

We also tested dozens of recipes and ingredients until we found the perfect combination. The most complicated task was to find tasty and 100% natural sauces. The only manufacturer who provided the ideal solution was the fantastic German company Kühne, who delivered a special order for us. I still believe their products are one of the best in the world.

Here are photos of the first packaging experiments with salad mixes and kits.
Salad kits' prototypes are ready to be delivered to our target audience to test 5 unique tastes
Experimenting with salad mixes packaging
Preparing to test generic design concepts with food zone photos
Experimenting with a dynamic logo approach and playing with packaging design elements
I also involved Vladimir Trinos, an experienced art director with whom we had already worked on the KidSpace project, in our packaging design process. Together, we developed 5 main concepts based on various brand positioning territories, broadcasting multiple messages. We also showed our current design to compare it with new concepts.
Current design
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We set the task for ourselves: to ensure that our core target audience would evaluate the concept we wanted to be launched positively.
1. Macro Plant
The concept broadcasts rational product benefits like vitamins and macronutrients through colorful stickers and claims.
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2. Zelny (Зельный)
The most experimental concept was to combine an ancient Slavic painting style and a modern logo.
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3. Green Heroes
In this concept, we used photos of our primary target audience — active city dwellers and benefits broadcasted through lettering.
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4. Green Brothers
(Братья Грин)
That concept is based on the farming brand positioning territory and demonstrates organic and natural product characteristics without artificial ingredients through colorful patterns and farm elements.
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5. Scoro
This minimalistic and colorful concept looked so different from competitors, most of whom had broadcasted farming design cliсhes.
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So, what did we do after we designed all those concepts? We called several focus groups to understand what concept is the closest to our brand platform and what would be appreciated most by our target audience.
As a result, the fifth concept with a current naming was the most appreciated by Gen X and Gen Y. Therefore, we decided to expand this design concept through all our product lines and the brand’s visual identity entirely.

Was it worse to create all these concepts, including new naming options, and finally return to the origin naming? It is better to have proven decisions than doubt every day because of the lack of those. This branding sprint gave us confidence in our chosen path.

Because of the new brand identity and product line, we needed to remake the whole product manufacturing and packaging system. We needed new packaging machinery which met our expectations. Therefore, our department developed an investment plan with the entire product line's launch stages and presented it to our stakeholders.

By the middle of 2019, we reached remarkable results. We almost doubled our revenue and took second place by brand’s market share. We achieved that goal by understanding the needs of our target audience segments and rebuilding our product line.

Our sales team did a brilliant expansionist job, and the logistics department ensured the freshness of the product for our final consumer. We entered new supermarket chains and took 1st place in sales in 5 country regions.

We also built a new plant-based manufacturing facility, which allowed us to increase our production volume.
There were also a lot of side effect results, which were made up accidentally. For example, when we discovered that an older target audience buys fermented products, we developed one more brand whose positioning, naming, and design were aimed at this target audience segment.

Another example is a product line based on pumpkin. We developed a 300% margin product line that included soups, sauces, and desserts made from the same ingredients.

Also, we patented a lot of recipes and registered dozens of trademarks and design concepts for future products that could be launched. Because of this intellectual property, our company was valued highly by auditors.
In the wake of these beautiful results, we were waiting for our stakeholders' decisions about the new packaging line and future advertising campaign launch, but they had completely different plans. They decided to sell the meat processing business, and our plant-based venture was a nice bonus.

I met with the new CEO and his marketing team when the deal ended. They wanted to shift our brand positioning from Gen Z and Gen Y to Gen X's target audience. There was no chance we could go on with that vision. Finally, we (my team) were politely asked to leave the company after having held heated debates for a month.

In the next 6 months, all our work was thrown away, and the market saw a brand redesigned for a different target audience segment — "caring housewives."
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I suggest you give your opinion about that "brand identity” and this vision, but the market has almost shown its attitude. Since 2019, the brand hasn’t shown any growth. The leading competitor occupied the Gen Y and Gen Z niche, which decided to shift to that audience in 2021. And here is what their brand identity looks like. Remind you of anything?
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Despite such a story ending, I noted the noticeable impact of my work. First, it helped stakeholders to sell the company very beneficially. The fact that the new owners have yet to take advantage of our developments is their subjective vision. Consumers already voted for the leading competitor.

Second, an equally important part of my job was connected with a people’s vision and mindset transformation. Look at my Integra сorporate rebranding case study to learn more about corporate culture transformation.

Let me think that I’ve changed the way of thinking of many people in the company and helped them to succeed in their future careers. At least all my team members succeeded, and we are still in contact.
I want to thank my team for their hard work, courage, and commitment to our shared moral values. You proved that everything is possible!