Machado has called on previous experiences in his new role. For instance, he was familiar with the Latin American market (NotCo was founded in Chile) from overseeing brands including Knorr as a VP of savory at Unilever. At Burger King, he was known for edgier marketing, including “Moldy Whopper,” an award-winning campaign that touted the removal of preservatives. He plans to bring similar thinking to NotCo. The company’s recent hires also include former Chobani marketer Meredith Madden, who joined NotCo earlier this year as U.S. general manager.
Still, NotCo faces a stiff challenge in getting mainstream consumers to choose vegan options. Machado says he is well aware of the perceptions that vegan food has—off textures, weird tastes, and a higher price point—which are barriers to landing new customers, even when coming from chains they might trust.
Both Burger King and McDonald’s have fielded vegan burger options— the Impossible Whopper and the McPlant, which was made with Beyond Meat. While the vegan Whopper is still available, McDonald’s pulled the McPlant after a poor test run in 2022. Dunkin’ also introduced a Beyond Sausage breakfast sandwich nationwide in 2019, but later significantly scaled back its availability. Starbucks still offers its breakfast sandwich made with Impossible sausage. Beyond Meat’s first-quarter revenue declined by 15.7% and that company cited “continued softness in demand in the plant-based meat category.”
Look back: Impossible Foods hits back at media report with ad
But the plant-based food sector has been growing, partially from improvements in options, but also from an increase in consumers wanting to eat healthier or more environmentally conscious. The global plant-based food market was valued at $44.5 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach $50.4 billion in 2023, according to The Business Research Company. In the U.S., the plant-based food market was worth $8 billion in 2022 with dollar sales up 7% from 2021 and units down 3%, mirroring total food and beverage and animal-based food, according to the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that promotes plant-based alternatives. Plant-based eggs, seafood, creamers and protein powders still saw unit sales growth in 2022 despite price hikes.
Ad Age recently caught up with Machado to learn more about NotCo’s marketing approach in the niche category. He explained why there are similarities to electric vehicle marketing and how NotCo is using AI.