Taste Comes First

Eat The Change

Our tag line for Eat the Change is “Chef-Crafted. Planet-Based.” Despite our strong commitment to creating planet-friendly foods, we choose to prioritize “chef-crafted” in our messaging and here’s why:

Taste always comes first. Everyone has seen market research that claims consumers prefer more environmentally friendly or socially responsible options.  But I take those findings with a grain of salt (as well as a tad bit of organic sugar and plant-based fat)- unless a product tastes great, the mission-driven enterprise never gets to realize its loftiest aspirations. 

This can be very frustrating for mission-driven entrepreneurs (like me) who are motivated by the impact they can make by steering people toward healthier and more planet-friendly diets. But I’ve learned that whether I’m selling a less-sweet tea or a plant-based burger, the logic works like this:

  1. The best way to make a meaningful impact is to sell lots of product.
  2. The best way to sell lots of product is to make a product that consumers want to try, and equally important, want to buy again.
  3. Environmental and social impact may help sell a product once but won’t affect the repurchase rate if the product doesn’t taste great.
  4. Consumers often subliminally interpret social or environmental packaging messages as "this doesn’t taste good."
  5. Taste always wins.

After all, it was the breakthrough taste of the Beyond Burger that made it possible for Beyond Meat to break into the meat section of grocery stores. We might not have been the first plant-based brand to request a place in the meat section, but we were the first to gain that placement because the taste, texture and overall sensory experience were tangibly different than previous plant-based burgers. I vividly remember our first meeting with the Whole Foods meat buyer. Despite his initial skepticism, when we placed a Beyond Burger on an electric griddle and he heard the sizzle and smelled the aroma, I knew he understood that this was a different proposition than the typical veggie burger. And the taste of the Beyond Burger convinced him it was worth trying a new approach to selling plant-based protein.

But here’s an unexpected twist – “great taste” doesn’t always have to be synonymous with “best taste.” If best taste always won, everything would be loaded with sugar, salt and fat, and our health indicators would be even worse than they are. When we were formulating Honest Tea, my co-founder Barry and I knew that our drinks were slightly below the peak point of taste. But we also knew we could still make a delicious drink with less than half the calories. In fact, we made that the key message for the back of our Green Dragon Tea label. 

Note that Green Dragon Tea is not at the peak of the taste curve, but that’s by design. We believed that many consumers would opt for the “just a tad sweet” taste profile in exchange for fewer calories.

We used to joke that the unofficial slogan for Honest Kids was “good enough that a kid won’t reject it.” Hardly a compelling selling point if the kid was the purchaser – but we knew that parents were seeking less sugary options for their kids. So we worked to create a less sweet drink that tasted good enough that a kid could get used to the taste. Of course, it helped that the branding and packaging were fun, but those would not be enough to keep kids loyal if they didn’t enjoy the taste.    

When I was preparing to launch Eat the Change, I knew we would be starting at a disadvantage because the name highlights the brand’s climate-friendly approach.  On top of that, we were planning to use mushrooms and other imperfect produce as our ingredients, which don’t necessarily create taste appeal.

I knew I needed to find a way to amplify our commitment to deliciousness.  And that’s why I turned to the most creative chef I know, Spike Mendelsohn. I knew that Spike wouldn’t fear Eat the Change’s planet-based commitment to avoid including the six most common crops in our recipes (corn, soy, wheat, rice, cane sugar, and potatoes) – after all, as a Top Chef contestant, he had found ways to innovate with much stricter constraints. In Spike’s hands, mushrooms are the perfect blank canvas—they can absorb whatever flavors he wants to paint on them, whether it’s a spicy habanero made with pineapple and tamarind, or maple mustard with a hint of turmeric.

Partnering with Spike as a co-founder was an important first step. Next, we had to find a way to make sure our consumers knew we had a chef involved. And that’s where our tag line comes in, “Chef-Crafted. Planet-Based.” Chef-crafted puts taste and our culinary credentials at the forefront, and planet-based shows our emphasis on climate friendly eating.

It’s a delicate trade-off between taste and impact, but in terms of messaging and product development, taste always comes first. Just like at Honest and Beyond, we hope we’ve hit the right balance between the two.

We had a brief debate about whether it should be “Planet-based, Chef-crafted” or “Chef-crafted, planet-based”  but we decided that taste had to come first.   Because taste always wins.

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