Maple Leaf helps families make the jump to plant-based

A campaign for the brand's new "50/50" products takes inspiration from TikTok to show parents there is a gateway to eating less meat.

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Maple Leaf is launching a 50/50 half-plant half-meat hybrid line, aimed at giving families an easier entry point to plant-based foods by promoting flavour profiles and meal occasions people are familiar with.

Maple Leaf is launching four SKUs in the new product line, which are from half real meat and half plant-based alternatives: dinner and breakfast sausages, burgers and ground beef. It also uses the Maple Leaf parent brand that families are more familiar with, as opposed to its Lightlife and Field Roast brands that have been targeted at young, urban “flexitarians.”

The brand cited insights from Dalhousie University that found 55% of Canadians are thinking about reducing their meat consumption. The family demographic that Maple Leaf tends to be focused on is also seeking to moderate or decrease meat consumption, but that still wants to keep it in their diet.

Maple Leaf has said it intends to create a $3 billion plant-protein business over the next decade, what the food company predicts could be a $25 billion category come 2029. After the acquisition of U.S.-based plant-based companies Lightlife and Field Roast, Maple Leaf is hoping to grow its Canadian business through a combination of food service partnerships and product innovation.

Maple Leaf is using the same approach to promote this product line as it does for other plant-based offerings: a combination of mass media, digital, social and influencers.

A 30-second campaign spot – created by agency Sid Lee – “Split Decisions,” uses a format reminiscent of TikTok videos showing how the pull of traditional meat can be an obstacle for families who want to incorporate more plant-based options into their meals. The approach is a natural extension of its previous found footage and home video-esque executions that aim to relate to the struggles families face when trying to make healthy decisions, says D’Arcy Finley, VP of marketing at Maple Leaf Foods.

“We are digital forward in how we are promoting this because we are able to really target people we know who are interested in it,” Finley says. According to Finley, this is the first of its kind product offered nationally across major banners and educating people on the concept of “fusion” protein and why it might be for them is more easily digestible in digital.

As Maple Leaf kept a pulse on its social community during the pandemic, Finley says it saw the rise of TikTok as a social platform among families as they stayed home. “Recognizing that modern families today are digitally-led in how they communicate and keep in touch, we started to tap into this family insight,” he says.

To support the hybrids’ launch, Maple Leaf is also hosting a “#GrillingForGoodness” Facebook and Instagram live chat series featuring food-relevant influencers like Montreal chef Vanessa Gianfrancesco and Maddie and Kiki, “Canada’s favorite female grill experts.” For three weeks leading up to National Barbecue Day on July 13, Canadians are invited to join the brand for summer grilling how-tos.

instagrammaple-leaf-foodsDespite its legacy in the meat category, it is Maple Leaf’s first attempt at owning National Barbecue Day, says Monica Tam, Maple Leaf Food’s director of brand marketing, but at home grilling has always been central to Maple Leaf’s messaging. Last year, for example, Maple Leaf activated around its Natural Top Dog brand, culminating in a hot dog etiquette campaign tied to National Hot Dog Day in July.

At shelf level, Tam says food photography on the packaging reminds shoppers how the line can be used the same as wholly meat-based offerings, which was important to reinforce the taste appeal. The product window was also important because consumers like to see that they’re buying in the fresh section where the product lines are merchandised (the 50/50 produce lines can be found in the fresh meat section, or the plant-based section, depending on the grocer).

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Finley acknowledges there is no substitute for getting foods in consumers’ mouths, but without sampling in-person, the brand is still “confident in our ability to make people hungry though other means.”

And when it comes to other means of enjoying a product that is a new, permanent part of the portfolio with more to come, Finley says the food service space “is always a consideration for us.” In 2019, Maple Leaf announced its Lightlife plant-based burger brand would produce burgers for Harvey’s and bar and restaurant chain Kelsey’s.