On Monday (10th October) Alpro tweeted that its plant-based dairy alternatives could be eaten as part of a healthy balanced diet.
It didn't take long for some of the company’s vegan followers to question the suggestion that a healthy diet should contain one third animal products.
After a barrage of criticism the maker of popular soy drinks, yoghurts and other plant-based products took to Twitter to apologise, saying “we made a mistake and we’re really sorry”.
“It was a genuine case of wording a tweet poorly, which didn’t convey what we meant at all. We didn’t mean to imply that you need to eat meat to have a healthy diet. In fact, quite the opposite – we would encourage everyone to eat more plant-based foods,” the company tweeted yesterday (12th October).
Yet many of the tweeters remained sceptical about the slip and pointed out this is not the first time the one third ratio had been cited.
Many suggested Alpro's plant-based ethics had been compromised since it was acquired by dairy giant Danone as part of a €11bn+ buy of US HQ'd WhiteWave Foods Company announced earlier this year.
“They're part of the dairy industry now. That explains it,” read one of many tweets along these lines.
Alpro's previous owner, WhiteWave Foods Company also counted dairy products (albeit organic) among its portfolio.
Yet for founder of the Healthy Marketing Team, Peter Wennström, this consumer backlash was the inevitable result of a conflict between Alpro and Danone's different consumer cultures.
"This is an expected clash of consumer cultures and brand values. And the clash will happen on two levels.
"The first is the internal class of corporate cultures between the niche focused Alpro business and the volume driven Danone business. The second is the clash between the brand values of Vegan Alpro and of Dairy Danone," he told us.
He said a brand like Alpro was inherently tied to vegan values and the basis of its success was the growth in popularity of vegan and vegetarian values.
"So the temptation for a brand owner – and especially a new one looking to grow volumes – is to move the brand from its core of vegans to the growing number of flexitarians in the early mass market where consumers are cutting down on meat for mainly health reasons. The message that caused the Twitter reaction clearly indicates this shift."
Yet he urged caution with this watered-down strategy.
"Brands like Alpro are owned by their core consumers and the loyalty and passion they give to their brands must be paid back by the brand being loyal to their consumers’ values."
‘We remain steadfast’
Asked about the challenge of balancing the branding of a plant-alternative food company popular with vegans with its new dairy behemoth owner, Alpro vice president of corporate communications Ann De Jaeger told us Alpro “remains steadfast” in its plant-based mission.
“The merger is not closed yet, but at any moment we are and remain committed to our consumers in the same way we do today. We are as dedicated as before and we stay committed to our mission and values.”
Discussing the Twitter mishap with us, De Jaeger said there was strong evidence to support a shift from current Western diets heavy in animal protein to a more plant-based diet.
“Currently consumers eat around two-thirds animal-based products and one third plant-based and we were intending to indicate that a lot of us could benefit from eating more plant based foods that benefit both people and planet.”
Yet veganism was just one way to make this change.
“It is of course completely OK to eat 100% plant-based but for the majority of the consumers this is a bridge too far, therefore we find recommending consumers gradually increasing the amount of plant-based foods can be more acceptable.”
Danone did not reply to a comment request before publication.