In November 2019, Papa John’s announced it was hiring for a brand new C-suite position: Chief Vegan Officer (CVO). Then, in January 2020, it announced Clare Every, blogger and influencer who operates The Little London Vegan blog, was named Papa Johns’ CVO.

“Over the next six months, I’ll be helping the team develop their vegan products and expand their plant-based offerings,” Every said in an Instagram and blog post announcing her role. “I’ll be the eyes and ears for the company, keeping them up to date with all of the latest trends and developments from the vegan world.”

While some people may be asking if this is a joke, others are sitting back, smirking, and saying, “it’s about f****** time.” No matter what end of that spectrum you fall on, we can all agree on one thing: the plant-food tipping point has been catalyzed due in part to veg-adopting conglomerates that once laughed in the face of vegan food. 

Is a Chief Vegan Officer Necessary?

This latest announcement from Papa John’s has surely prompted business executives to ask themselves, “Do we need a Chief Vegan Officer?” The reality is, good business means adapting and pivoting based on trends. And if you’re really good, you see the trend before it happens; if you are even better, you create the trend.

But adding a vegan-focused offering —or adding a CVO— or any other do-gooder seeming move, does not erase or forgive bad corporate behavior. Papa John’s was in hot water last year after it’s founder and then-CEO made racist remarks. Since then, the company has assigned new leadership and been attempting to rebound from all negative PR and diving profits. Hopefully, adding a “Chief Vegan Officer” is not just a publicity gimmick used in the company’s quest for redemption. 

Businesses should first look at the fundamental of the ‘why.’ Why now such a stark consumer shift and explosion in plant-based dining and food demand? Doing so will help with a better understanding of consumer motivation. Typically, there are three main reasons people choose to go plant-based: 

  • Ethics:  A rejection of the systematic inhumane treatment of animals.
  • Environment: Mass-scale factory farming is causing immense environmental degradation.
  • Health: Science is showing that a plant-based diet is better for health, and can actually help reverse disease.

If the Board (or anyone else) needs evidence of the growing demand, just look at the numbers. Global Data, a research firm, reported that veganism in America increased by 600 percent between 2014 and 2017. In 2017, Google searches for “vegan” surpassed “vegetarian” for the first time. In 2018, Forbes called 2018 ‘the year of the plant’ pointing to the drastic increase in meat alternatives and food science helping to supplant animal-based products.

Plant-Based Demand by the Numbers

Acumen Research and Consulting forecasts that the vegan food market will be worth $24.3 billion by 2026. (To put that in perspective, the global dairy is projected to be valued at USD $703.5 billion by 2024. And in some countries, entire dairy farms are going out of business due to not being able to compete with the plant-based alternatives.) Beyond Meat (NASDAQ:BYND) had one of the most successful IPOs of all time. Impossible Foods gained household-name status as a restaurant-only plant-based patty offering, and just launched with much fanfare in retail. You can also look to the explosion in fast-food chains creating entire plant-based menus and offerings.

With plant-based dining and foods, we do find ourselves in what is perhaps a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. If restaurants offer clearly marked and dedicated “V” items, veg-dedicated eaters will seek them out and come. But also by offering these items, the casual diner who may have otherwise gone to the meat or dairy dish will choose the “V” option, because it is there.

Studies have shown that if you offer it, they will come. Research from Cambridge University found that people actually eat 80% less meat when there are vegan and vegetarian options on the menu. Also, a recent research report shows that 95% of people ordering vegan burgers don’t identify as vegan or vegetarian. No matter how one arrives at the plant-based item on their plate, choosing the “V” option is at the displacement of the animal-based one, and smart businesses will be prepared.

The bottom line is people are becoming 'food woke' about the benefits of reducing or eliminating animal products from their diets. Plant-based eating and veganism is not a cyclical here-and-gone fad; it’s a cultural shift. Not every company needs to run out and hire a Chief Vegan Officer, but companies should absolutely consider this as a viable revenue-producing (and good for the world) vertical and invest in people with institutional knowledge to help their plant-based offerings succeed.    

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