10 Labeling Learnings: A Regulatory Expert’s Guide For Plant-Based Brands Going Global

7 Mins Read

Legal and regulatory expert Mathilde Do Chi shares her top 10 tips for plant-based brands on how best to label their products as they enter new geographies.

First emerging as a disruptive category in the food industry, plant-based alternatives to products of animal origin have ballooned from a niche to a sizable share of the market in recent years. Nowadays, you can find endless options to replace animal-based products with their counterparts devoid of ingredients of animal origin. In many countries, there are now multiple leading brands for each product category from meat to dairy to eggs.

Many of these brands are now eyeing new markets to expand their footprint and find a new audience of conscious customers. While great branding is important, it’s key to ensure that your messaging and your product information translate in other countries. Not to mention that it’s a regulatory minefield out there and it’s vital for companies to know how to protect themselves, their brands and their products, especially as they start entering new markets. Here are the 10 things to think about and consider before launching your label in a new land.

1) Deliver the information in the local language

Although English is used as the lingua franca in business, brands need to be mindful to provide all the necessary information in at least one of the official languages of the targeted country. For instance, the European Union encompasses half a billion inhabitants distributed in 27 EU Member States whose official languages amount to 24 in total! 

English is only the official language in Ireland and Malta. It does not mean that consumers in other countries won’t understand English but significant disparities exist in terms of proficiency in the region. In the same fashion, Switzerland uses 3 out of its 4 official languages in business (French, German, Italian but not Romansh) which compels brands to provide information in the language spoken in the targeted region. 

Additionally, make sure to localize your marketing materials and not translate your marketing campaigns word for word. Not adapting your marketing strategy has proven to be not only ineffective but also detrimental to reaching new markets abroad. 

2) Be mindful of the culture 

Communication happens on the listener’s terms, meaning that everything you say to a person is filtered through their frames of reference, biases and preconceived ideas.

Culture is part of these elements that influence the perception of products and if this is overlooked it may result in you failing to gain new customers. Countries have different approaches to the importance of tradition regarding certain delicacies. 

Some names of traditional products such as those listed under the protected designations of origin (PDO) and the protected geographical indications (PGI) cannot be used if their production methods and ingredient list do not comply with a rigid set of criteria. Resist the urge to give a plant-based twist to these products of animal origin as you could face some backlash from consumers and legal repercussions for not complying with legal provisions. Better stick an out-of-the-box strategy by coming up with original names when designating your products. 

3) Take into account all the types of consumers that may come across your products

Food law provisions stress that consumers must be provided enough information to be able to form an informed decision, thus easily recognizing what the plant-based food in question contains and what would be its animal-based version. 

Unlike diets of people with specific needs – like those suffering from coeliac disease or practicing a given religion with dietary restrictions, such as Islam and Judaism, vegan and plant-based foods are not marketed specifically towards vegans and those eating a fully plant-based diet.

Brands need to convey their message in a way it can be understood by omnivores, flexitarians and vegans, and vegetarians. This can be done by using descriptive and clarifying terms such as plant-based, and meat-free, or by adding the mention “do not contain meat”.

4) Emphasize the versatility of your products

A golden rule to attract more customers when introducing a new foodstuff is to showcase all its applications. You need to demonstrate how to cook and use it which can be easily done by providing signature recipes either on the back of the packaging or on social media or the company’s website. 

Introducing new foods into one’s diet may seem daunting at first and can be easily remedied by guiding people on ways to best incorporate them into their daily life. 

5) Shed light on the nutritional benefits 

Plant-based products have been viewed as healthier than animal products due to their high fiber content and the fortification of vitamin B12 and iron. Don’t shy away from displaying the other nutritional components of your products such as being high in protein and low in fat. 

6) Be careful between using the words plant-based and vegan 

Vegan relates to the ethical belief of veganism which seeks to exclude any products or services that exploited animals in their supply chain. The food industry may resort to animal testing due to some outdated regulations to assess the toxicity of some components of a food ingredient and determine the maximum daily intake of a certain food. Thus, it is important to use the term only when the foodstuff and all its ingredients did not make use of animals. Additionally, you may also choose to showcase the genuine vegan nature of the foodstuff by having it certified by the V-label or the vegan trademark to bear their quality seals just like halal and kosher products bear theirs. 

Alternatively, you may decide to go for the term plant-based on your packaging and have your product certified by the Plant-Based Food Association if you are selling in the US or Canada.

Consumers have trust in products with a quality seal and it can also help consumers to find your products more easily by making them distinct. 

7) Only highlight the environmental benefits of your products if you can prove them

When making claims, it is paramount that you can substantiate them at the risk of ending in hot legal water through misleading consumer allegations coming from the animal and dairy industry, consumer protection association, or even plant-based competitors. 

Even though the IPCC panel, the EAT-Lancet, and other respected organizations have demonstrated that plant-based products play an essential role in lowering GHG emissions in the food production industry, claims are always tied to a specific product and are not to be interpreted through reports issues the aforementioned organizations. 

Avoid claims like eco-friendly, and good for the planet and rather go for specific and substantiated claims like “this product sold in the US emitted 83% fewer GHGs than US chicken as analyzed through this study performed by this entity”. 

The more specific you can be the better! 

8) Play the long-term game 

The plant-based meat category in the US received quite a lot of backlash at the beginning of the year but this does not apply to other regions and other categories! A lot of brands entered the market with poor marketing strategies with products that lacked flavor and texture which did not result in establishing them as long-term players.  

Analyze your target audience properly and tailor your marketing accordingly to broaden your customer pool and establish your brand. 

9) Collaborate with others 

Creating partnerships with other players in the industry is a win-win scenario where you will gain exposure to new markets and unlock new business opportunities. This is what LaVie did last year with its signature plant-based bacon by launching a collaboration with Hank Burger, a French vegan burger chain. 

Likewise, partnering with non-plant-based entities can entice consumers’ curiosity and make plant-based offerings more accessible to the mainstream public. Since March 2021, Oatly has been available across the US which has contributed to broadening the plant-based milk choice for consumers. 

10) Embrace brand activism 

The very nature of the plant-based and vegan food movement lies in its willingness to disrupt the current food market to foster the adoption of new products that do not harm animals. Advocacy is usually based on the evolutive character of language and growing consumer knowledge and awareness, and eagerness to discover new ways of eating.

Brand activism has been defined by the authors Christian Sarkar and Philip Kotler as business endeavors to encourage, hinder or direct social, political, economic and/or environmental reform or standstill intending to promote or impede improvements in society. This goes far beyond the values-driven Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) programs in the sense it aims to demonstrate why a brand exists and how it contributes to the Common Good. 

In our case, the Common Good refers to the end of animal exploitation, the creation of healthier food alternatives, and the lessening of the negative impact of food production on the environment. 

The Spanish plant-based “meat” pioneer Heura excels in advertising its products unconventionally and educationally. Their campaigns are known for disseminating information to convince consumers to rethink their eating habits. Heura’s website displays a breath of fresh air, where they challenge the average conception that plant-based meats are alternatives by striking off the word alternatives and replacing it with the phrase “successors of meat,” reframing the evolution and place of plant-based products on the food market.

Bernat Añaños, the co-founder of Heura, called out governments at the COP26 in Glasgow in 2021 since its agenda did not even mention the role of food production and especially meat production in GHG emissions and highlighted that moving away from animal products was a powerful tool to mitigate climate change. 

Aligning your values with your brands will resonate much more than you can envision, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental and social impacts of their diets and demand to be empowered to be part of the solution.

Want to take a deeper dive? Check out my book ‘Naming and advertising vegan and plant-based alternatives to products of animal origin in Europe’, available on order here.


  • Mathilde Do Chi

    Mathilde Do Chi has worked extensively on the legal challenges of alternative proteins in NGOs as the VP of Regulatory Affairs (Vegan World Alliance and Vegan Society of Canada), at ADM, a multi-national specialized in plant-based ingredients as a regulatory specialist and now as an independent food law and public affairs consultant specialized in global alternative protein regulations. She has spoken on the importance of mastering food regulations for companies when developing futuristic food products at the Future of Protein Production Summit, at Bridge2Food events, and on several podcasts. She is also an advisor to a wide variety of actors ranging from VCs, multinationals, startups, and research consultancies.

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