Should you go with ‘vegan’, ‘plant-based’, ‘free-from’, ‘cruelty-free’ - or nothing at all!

When it comes to terminology for your brand there are many choices: vegan, plant-based, free-from, cruelty-free, or even nothing at all. 

It can be confusing when it comes to crunch time and you have to choose which one to go with.

Choices, choices

At the start of your business journey during the ideas phase this probably seemed like one of the easiest decisions. In fact, it most likely didn’t even appear there was a choice to make. You are vegan, your business will be vegan, of course you’re going to lead with ‘vegan’. Or you are plant-based, your business will be plant-based, of course you’re going to lead with ‘plant-based’. You see where I’m going here, as the same can be said for ‘free-from’ if you have a dairy allergy for example, or ‘cruelty-free’ if perhaps you’re coming more from an activist viewpoint.

However, the more thought you put into this, the more consumer research you’ve done, the more you realise that this is not only a choice that you have to make, it’s one that you need to make with a lot of thought and smarts.

Even if your business is already established, it may be that you’re realising that perhaps it would be doing better if you decided to change the terminology you’re using in your branding and messaging.

The bottom line is that this decision isn’t about you. And it’s completely about you. Confused? Not surprising! Stay with me here…

It’s not about you

This decision isn’t about you because it’s completely about your customer base. If your customer base is plant-based and they identify as that category, then if you use ‘vegan’ terminology in your brand and message then you’re alienating the consumers you’re aiming at. Which makes no sense.

If you’re lactose intolerant and your business is creating free-from chocolates and you label them as such, it may be that vegans and plant-based consumers (certainly newbies) will pass these over as they won’t realise they’re for them (how many of us ignore ‘free-from’ labelling since picking up something which turned out to still have egg in it?).

You’ve also got to consider people buying gifts for their family or friends, they’re not used to having to read ingredient lists or connecting the dots – your products, brand, packaging and so on must boldly mention exactly the terminology they’re looking for.

It’s completely about you

This decision is completely about you because you need to completely believe in it and make it work. So, if you’re vegan and want a vegan business with an ethical message, then labelling it as ‘plant-based’ just won’t work.

In this case you have to make it personal. You have to make it real – this is more about you and your cause, instead of about consumers and attracting as many of them as possible. This is about building your customer tribe.

 Vivera make very little mention of the ‘V’ word as they look to take advantage of the current marketplace for meat alternatives.

Why it matters

In conclusion, ultimately the decision depends on if you have a personal cause or not.

Personal cause = choose the term your cause is associated with

If you have a personal cause such as:

  • vegan business activism
  • spreading the vegan message
  • promoting plant-based health
  • communicating about dairy intolerance
  • making the world cruelty-free

then make this decision a personal one and lead with your personal beliefs. This is likely to be personally rewarding, but also understand that this is less likely to make you money (but it’s not impossible!).

No personal cause = choose the term your target consumers associate with

Instead, if you care more about your products or services and don’t want to lead with a cause (even if you do have a sneaky one), then choose your terminology by your smarts and research. This is more likely to make you money, but may be less personally satisfying than leading with a cause you’re passionate about.


Since the founder of The Vegan Society coined the term ‘vegan’ and its meaning, we go with their definition:

“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

Being vegan is a lifestyle rather than a dietary choice. People’s reasons for being vegan are always ethical – either animals or environment, or both. In fact, some vegans start their journey from an environmental standpoint, and then as they learn more, they are in it for the animals. It’s important to remember that people’s reasons for being vegan don’t necessarily remain static, but they will always be rooted in ethics. As a rule, vegans don’t ever quit being vegan. This means that although it’s a small group of consumers, it only grows in numbers over time.

Viva La Vegan is an example of a company who’s ethical roots and campaigning is integral to their brand and are selling almost exclusively to vegan consumers.



    • Can lead with pro-vegan messages
    • Can be cause-led
    • Easier to build a tribe
    • Easier to build brand loyalty
    • Growing consumer base
    • Easy for families and friends of vegans to purchase gifts


    • Easy to alienate plant-based and free-from consumers (if cause-led)
    • Most non-vegans won’t buy from you (this could also be a ‘pro’, if you’re only wanting vegan consumers) – this means a small consumer base
    • Can attract negative and offensive comments and actions from non-vegans


    People who identify as plant-based have a the same diet as a vegan, but not the vegan lifestyle. Often people who choose to have a plant-based diet do so for health reasons (and some move on to a whole food plant-based diet, in which case their dietary choices do differ from vegans). However, a plant-based diet can also be the start of some people’s vegan journey – they want to cut out all animal products, but doing so all at once is difficult, so they start with food.

    So, some people who identify as plant-based will always remain plant-based, some will move over into the ‘vegan’ group, and others will decide not to remain plant-based at all. Therefore this marketplace can certainly be a moving target over time – it will always have plenty of members, but they may not always consist of the same individuals, and their needs and desires will change as they move in and out of this group. This means it’s difficult to build long-term brand loyalty.

    Beyond Meat promotes its products as plant-based to capture the wider flexitarian and meat reduction marketplace.



    • Can lead with strong health messages
    • Easy to attract people trying healthier options who don’t identify with any ‘group’
    • Easy to attract people who care about the environment to a degree
    • Easy to attract flexitarians
      Vegans understand the term and know they can use your products (although see below caveat in cons)
    • ‘Plant-based’ as a term offends nobody and has no ‘negative’ connotations associated with it – if you want a safe bet, this is likely it


    • Difficult to build long-term brand loyalty – growing group, but reasons and motivations change, some move into vegan and away from your business, others stop plant-based diets altogether
    • If you don’t seem to care about ethics, most vegans will bypass your products if there is a vegan-message-led alternative (though this is a small percentage of the population)
    • Family members and friends of vegan people will not be able to tell that they can purchase your products as a gift


    Exactly what it says on the tin! Your products are free from something – and if they’re suitable for vegans or people on a plant-based diet, it means they’re free from any animal products or derivatives and the products and ingredients haven’t been tested on animals. 

    However, in many cases free-from products have been historically been aimed at people with intollences (dairy, gluten, etc) so someone on a vegan or meat and dairy reduction diet may not automatically think that your product is them.  For example a free-from cake may be made without milk, but still include egg.

    Gü Puds have chosen to go with free-from for their dairy-free and gluten-free range, and use ‘vegan’ as secondary labelling



    • Anyone who has a dairy intolerance will know your product is likely for them
    • If you have a food product in a supermarket, your item will likely be in the free-from section which is where people with food intolerances go scouting – and vegans and people on plant-based diets also often go here to see what’s available


    • Vegans and people on plant-based diets get annoyed at free-from products when having to read all the ingredients just to find out if this product is suitable for them (so think of some easy secondary labelling)
    • If you don’t seem to care about ethics, most vegans will bypass your products if there is a vegan-message-led alternative (though this is a small percentage of the population)
    • Family members and friends of vegan people will not be able to tell that they can purchase your products as a gift


    This is an interesting one, and not something many businesses are leading with, certainly not those outside of the toiletries and cosmetics sectors. But that could certainly change over time! Opting to lead with ‘cruelty-free’ encompasses the vegan message in a campaigning way but without the negative connotations associated sometimes with the word ‘vegan’.

    It’s interesting because when faced with a choice, of course everyone wants the cruelty-free option. In fact, they start to question why the other options aren’t cruelty-free.

    It really plays into consumer psychology and gets people asking questions, so it’s definitely a fun and educational option instead of ‘vegan’. It’s something you can easily lead with if you want to run your business on the vegan cause and help people to begin and continue their own vegan journeys.

    Blondes Cruelty-free Eatery (which also happens to be home to Mummy Meagz, a European-wide producer of vegan snacks and confectionery) embrace the cruelty-free message for their coffee shop brand so that they can engage non-vegan customers about the topic.



    • Easy to build a vegan cause around and with
    • Encourages people to ask questions of you, others and themselves (and perhaps begin their own vegan journey)
    • Easier to build a tribe
    • Easier to build brand loyalty
    • Growing consumer base
    • Attracts vegans and non-vegans alike


    • Once people make the connection between ‘cruelty-free’ and ‘vegan’, easy to alienate plant-based and free-from consumers
    • Once this connection is made, it can attract negative and offensive comments and actions from non-vegans
    • Family members and friends of vegan people will possibly not be able to tell that they can purchase your products as a gift

    Nothing at all!

    There are a lot of companies now who are deciding to stay away from the above type of labelling altogether. This partially helps to normalise vegan and plant-based products. It is usually done to try and attract all types of consumer and therefore the potential for the most sales possible.

    Whilst this is interesting if that is your goal, one could ask the question why make your product vegan or plant-based if you’re not going to allow those consumers to know that they are suitable for them?

    This approach generally only works if you’re a large company with some great PR – you can get some great messages across to the general population (based on health or environment), and then get the message across to vegans and people on plant-based diets by targeting their publications/social media/news feeds and so on. So, you need two separate campaigns, even if they’re with very similar messages.

    Wicked Kitchen is Tesco’s vegan range but you will find little or no mention of it on the packaging, making plant-based foods a normality for all customers.



    • Potential to attract all consumers.


    • You’ll likely need to be a larger company for this, and have the ability to employ at least 2 marketing campaigns (one for each type of consumer)
    • Difficult to build any brand loyalty – you’re not only competing with vegan, plant-based, free-from, and cruelty-free brands, you’re competing with all brands (including the big household names/restaurants and so on)
    • If you don’t seem to care about ethics, most vegans will bypass your products if there is a vegan-message-led alternative (though this is a small percentage of the population)
    • Family members and friends of vegan people will not be able to tell that they can purchase your products as a gift

    Lisa Fox says:

    In the end, it’s about how widely you want to sell your products.  Sometimes, the more defined your market the easier it is to connect with that market and make a product for them, which is why you see many ethical companies leading with a ‘vegan’ message who are selling mainly just to vegan consumers.

    But from the examples above you can see that many companies mix and match, for example leading with plant-based to not alienate a wider audience but having a vegan checkmark secondary on the packaging so that vegans know it’s suitable for them also.

    Please add your own comment:

    16 comments on “Should you go with ‘vegan’, ‘plant-based’ or something else entirely?

    1. Thanks for this. I come under the secret agenda category. I just make food,no meat replacements just supporting local produce and other vegan artisans. Vegan support has waned. Non vegan support has boomed and people are eating ethical food without questionning. When I labelled us as vegan people just didn’t come in. I had to watch the vegans eat in pubs with vegan options with their non vegan friends. All good but killed off quite a few vegan businesses. Sad but true. Not all the coubret is the same, veganism in rural dairy Devon Devon isn’t easy.

      1. I can imagine! It’s also an interesting point worth mentioning, that the response to the wording you choose to lead with isn’t just based on the type of products or services you supply. This can differ greatly depending on your location. If a person was doing incredibly well leading with ‘vegan’ in Manchester and then moved the business to Devon, they’re going to have the same issue to contend with.

        There are a great deal of variables to consider, and the only way to find out what really works is through some market-research (area-based if your products or services are available only locally) and then testing and tweaking accordingly.

        As businesses we must be willing and able to be fluid – we’ve got to listen to our customers, and our non-customers, and change this type of wording accordingly.

        Ultimately however, if you’re cause-led and want to lead with ‘vegan’ no matter what, and only serve a locality, then one must think very carefully about what area to locate the business. Location literally means the life or death of a busines in this case!

    2. Is there a limit on how many of these are good to use? Our skincare products are promoted as plant-based, vegan, cruelty free and free from!

      1. If you’re worried about people being confused about the different terminology and what each term means (which some people are), and your aim is to be all-inclusive and have a ‘catch all’, then using all four terms means you won’t lose or confuse anyone! In which case, there’s no limit. However, note that doing this can sometimes dilute your message. But if you’re not aiming to lead your brand with a singular mission-message then it won’t matter.

        If you are using all four of these then I’d suggest that it’s OK to continue doing so on your website, but when it comes to your social media posts stick with a single term. It’s long-winded to keep using all four terms in each individual social post. So, I’d suggest for this purpose either pick the one that your target customers are most likely to identify with, or mix it up with each post.

    3. You see more and more supermarket foods using plant-based and I’ve always wondered what the difference was. I’ve never trusted they are vegan so still read all the ingredients to check. I think that you should use both, say it’s plant based but also put suitable for vegans on it then everyone knows.

      1. Yes, even if that’s only in small print above the ingredients! But vegans also learn from other vegans, word quickly gets around when there’s a new vegan supermarket range – Like the new Gro range in the Co-op.

      1. We have to remember that we sometimes live in what we call ‘our vegan bubble’, especially if we have vegan friends or spend a lot of time in vegan Facebook groups. There have been studies that have shown putting ‘vegan’ on the front of packaging reduces food sales, but that study was a couple of years ago so it would be great to see how that is changing.

    4. We’ve always said vegan but I like what Blondes say above about using the phrase cruelty-free – we have so many conversation with people in the shop but we know some are put off coming in because we say we’re a vegan cafe.

    5. We’ve always gone with vegan because we are selling to vegans but i never thought about using something like cruelty free because noone is going to be put off by that no matter what they eat.

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