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Plant power: understanding the global language of veganism and vegetarianism

As Veganuary 2020 draws to a close, it seems that veganism has truly entered not only the mainstream consciousness, but also our vocabulary.

Not only has there been a huge proliferation of vegan products and dishes across supermarket shelves and on restaurant menus, but there has also been a shift in the language used to describe these new lifestyle choices.

And, it’s important to note, different cultures have different ways of classifying and marketing vegan/ vegetarian lifestyles. What might be promoted as a “Good Karma Schwarma” to über-cool hipsters in one urban hotspot might be better positioned as a more prosaic “meat-free kebab” to consumers elsewhere.

Marketers with an interest in promoting vegan or vegetarian goods should be aware of some important sub-categories in different languages.

Going “végétalien”

In English, as in most languages, the term vegetarian describes a product which is meat free (but could include eggs and dairy products) while vegan refers to something that is entirely free from any form of animal product.

However, in French, there are some interesting further distinctions. The term “végétalien” (or  “végétalienne” in its feminine form) is used for people who follow a diet free from animal products but who don’t necessarily abstain from broader animal-product lifestyle choices such as wearing leather or wool.

Veganism is on the rise across countries outside the early-adopting English-speaking territories such as the UK, US and Australia. In Spain, for example, there is a growing responsiveness to vegetarianism and veganism which has been reflected in the vocabulary used to describe it.

One example of this is “crudivegano”, a Spanish term which doesn’t have an exact English equivalent. It refers to what is sometimes known as “raw veganism”: a vegan diet which also excludes food that is processed or altered from its natural state, such as by cooking at a high temperature.

Flexing the language

In English and in Spanish, the term “flexitarian” (or “flexitariano”) is used by many people to describe a diet which is usually vegetarian with a few occasional exceptions.

In Spanish, however, there is another rather helpful classification known as “reducetariano”, which is used to describe a person who wants to reduce the amount of meat they eat rather than give it up completely. The distinction is subtle, but also a useful way to linguistically identify a growing number of consumers.

Street life

Of course, the language used to market veganism has changed too. When UK high-street Greggs bakery announced it would “drop”(introduce) its new vegan sausage roll in January 2020, it was deliberately using the language of a DJ or record company announcing its latest floor-shaking release.

Drawing on the idioms of street culture and dance music in particular, it highlights the fact that the terminology we use to describe products can redefine them for previously untapped markets.

The repositioning of veganism as something positive and ‘cool’ rather than an extreme or ‘alternative’ lifestyle choice can be seen in the packaging of many products. Many manufacturers have opted for labels such as “plant-based”, “protein-rich” or “plant-powered” to describe products to avoid the negative connotations associated with “vegan” or even “meat free”.

Cultural insight

Of course, with vegan and vegetarian products as with any other, it is extremely important to consider cultural implications when localising marketing content from territory to territory.

For example, the “No Bull Burger” sold by Iceland in the UK relies on the playful double meaning of the term “No Bull” in English, which communicates literally that it contains no meat from a (male) cow but also that  it is a “no nonsense” burger (put politely!)

Crudely translating such terms into another language without the awareness of local cultural implications is like serving up a steak to a table of hungry “crudiveganos”. Don’t expect your guests to return any time soon. But if you’d like to ensure your marketing menu is suitable for diners of all tastes, we suggest you drop us a line at lifestyle@thisisalpha.com.

In the meantime, bon appétit!