It's June 2019, some time before 07:00.  I’m standing in a corridor at one of our supplier’s production facilities ready to be interviewed live on BBC Breakfast News. The supplier is Quorn and I’m here to talk about the launch of KFC’s new Vegan burger.

About a minute later the interviewer steams through the metal double doors that separate my corridor from the low rumbling of the factory. He rips off his hairnet, thrusts his furry mic towards my throat and asks, “So Jack, what is it about fermented fungi that makes you think customers are going to come flocking to KFC?”

A fair question.

Here we are now two and a half years later and you may well be asking the same question. What is it about fermented fungi, about pea protein, plant-based, meat-free, analogues, alternatives and substitutes that has taken over the national consciousness (or at least that of food marketeers)?

I’m not talking about vegetarian ranges (there’s no such thing as Vegetarianuary), but specifically about those plant-based meat alternatives. The sort of thing that looks like meat, tastes like meat, but is in fact anything but.

Greggs and their vegan sausage roll deserve credit for the first wave. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not crediting my Dad’s favourite pasty purveyor with the invention of veganism but they did make a bit of a moment of it. They got Piers Morgan pretending to throw up into a bin on daytime TV and raging on Twitter about “PC-ravaged clowns” – bravo Greggs.

For the rest of us – and we were all hot on their heels – we needed to figure out how to style out a fashionably late arrival and get to market without missing this thing all together. Some rushed and in their blind panic not to miss a cultural phenomenon prepared their “vegan friendly” food on the same cooking equipment as their meat (I’m not going to name names).

Overwhelmingly the sector got it right and there are some pretty delicious tasting plant-based options out there. This year over 15,000 restaurants have added plant-based menus and dishes to their usual offering and when we come to review the growth of media spend on vegan launches it’s going to be significant.

And the percentage of Vegan’s in the UK is what? About 3%.

So, are we all fighting for our piece of a 3% market? Nope, of course not.

The opportunity is not in targeting vegans, vegetarians and pescatarians or even flexitarians (I don’t know if anyone actually self identifies as flexitarian) but in being a brand for everyone. We all remember the shocking lesson from our first day at marketing school – the one about the chocolate bar Yorkie who spent 10 years saying “It’s Not for Girls” but actually do in fact sell chocolate bars to females(!) You don’t have to be a vegan to eat a vegan burger and you don’t have to eat a vegan burger to better relate to a brand that sells one.

But I also think food brands must remember that this not the end for meat and dairy; but we do need to work harder to make consumers feel good about those choices.  The growth in veganism should be a driver for investment and innovation in better quality animal-based products, whether that’s welfare standards, agricultural practices, or environmental impacts.  You certainly don’t have to be vegan to share concerns around climate change or animal welfare. 

Businesses need to act together to create change. Along with others we’ve signed up to the Better Chicken Commitment to improve welfare standards for chicken, and the UK Soy Manifesto to tackle the issue of deforestation in the supply chain.  Our customers care and want to know that we do too.  Let’s celebrate veganism and continue to provide that choice for consumers but lets also remember that all of our customers deserve to feel good about the choices they make, and it’s down to food brands to drive the change that will make that happen.

Jack will be writing a column for the MAD//Fest Newsletter regularly throughout the year. Find out more here