For three hot summer days at Alexanderplatz, I wore a Swing Kitchen uniform and had a camera around my neck. My job was to approach people, talk to them about Swing Kitchen, and invite passersby to try a vegan nugget. Most of them said they couldn’t believe it was vegan! I have to admit: I did create quite an unfair advantage for myself. Instead of standing inside our stall, I stood outside to draw people closer. And it worked! By the end of the three days, we’d talked to thousands of people and given away 1,000 vouchers.
You might wonder why vegan products taste like meat. Or why I even care to write about this in more detail.
With so many of the replacement products on the market, you probably wouldn’t believe they’re even fake. Which might make you wonder why vegans would eat fake meat that tastes like, well, meat. It’s quite simple, really: It’s because changing diets is really REALLY hard! Food is what gives us comfort. Food serves as an agent for many of our rituals and cultural traditions. You might have always made yourself a cheese sandwich for breakfast. Suddenly, once you decide to go vegan, you’ll need to change that – and so many other things. It’s a lot to think that you took for granted all your life suddenly. So the job of replacement products, like those vegan nuggets I shared, is to make the journey more comfortable. Maybe you’re able to change your cheese sandwich habit immediately. OR maybe you switch to vegan cheese until you find a new ritual and a new recipe. And maybe, once you think of yourself as a more “established” vegan, you won’t need these products anymore. But that’s a discussion for another day.
So let’s go back to why I stood at Alexanderplatz for three days wearing a service staff uniform and engaging in what I call community strategy and outreach...
When I suggested to my client, Swing Kitchen, that they join the Vegan Sommerfest earlier this year, everyone was excited about the idea. Swing Kitchen has only recently launched in Berlin, and they’ve found it’s much harder than expected to bring guests in.
Being at a festival and among other entrepreneurs allowed us to connect with the local audience and show our faces. It allowed us to talk about our values. We were able to speak about why Swing Kitchen does what it does. We could discuss why we chose to have fake meat products on the menu that tasted exactly like chicken or beef.
The event was a great success, and I was grateful we did it. However, setting up a stand at a festival isn’t as easy as just popping up. You have to be prepared for such events, and Swing Kitchen is not.
For starters, nuggets and tiramisu were the only two products we could put on the menu, as they were the only two items we could cook on site. We had to rent all the necessary equipment and set up a “field” kitchen for three days.
What might sound easy in one country isn’t always easy in another. In Germany, you must have a tent with a roof. You’ve got to have a washable floor...that’s also detached from the ground in case it rains. All surfaces must be washable. Nothing is allowed to be directly on the ground either. There must be flowing water… the list goes on!
Given there were no tents for rent available in all of Germany, I had to buy a tent. And that was just one thing I had to figure out! Luckily, I was able to make it seem like Swing Kitchen always did these kinds of events. And for me too, this was something I’ve done the very first time. I must say my interior architecture studies really came in handy!
Right after the festival, I got to host an event with the Vegan Entrepreneur Network. We invited Annik from Einhorn Berlin’s marketing team and Irene, the founder of Swing Kitchen, to speak about “Vegan Entrepreneurship as Activism.”
We learned, from a recent customer questionnaire, that 80% of Swing Kitchen’s customers are carnivores. I’d say it’s an activist act to be able to convince non-vegans to opt-in for vegan foods! For every vegan burger Swing Kitchen sells, a real burger becomes unnecessary.
By now, you might have noticed that, when I work with a food business, it’s most likely a vegan company. That’s because I believe eating animal products is no longer contemporary. While I acknowledge how hard it is to change your diet, I think it’s necessary for the wellbeing of our planet.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably know that I’m interested in cultural and social change and – given that I also like to learn something while working on a project – working with vegan companies has been truly life-changing. I wasn’t a vegan until I left Veganz after the project last year and informed myself properly about everything we talked about in our conversations. It’s a strange feeling to look around now and feel astonished that so many people still eat food that, based on research, makes them, our animals, and the planet sick. To me, personally, this is not necessarily about animal welfare. It's more about common sense and integrity.
When I first started working with Swing Kitchen, I was only supposed to run a few events at the space. Then, I was asked to help with the brand bible, the language manual, copywriting, the new website, and a social media strategy for 2020.
I worked on the brand bible with Moriz Piffl, who is one of the most incredible marketers I’ve ever met. What I love about working with him is how much we both care and how we’re never scared to tell the other what we think. At times, we were like two Tauruses battling about what we wanted to say and how. It was a good battle and a necessary one. What was most rewarding about this project was the feedback we’ve received! The founders of Swing Kitchen loved how we framed what their brand stands for.
Two animal rights activists founded Swing Kitchen. The reason Swing Kitchen is a fast-food chain and not a hippie, vegan, superfoods joint – and I’m glad I can say that on my website! – is because of the astonishing popularity of McDonald's. The founders know that the more vegan burgers they sell, the fewer meat burgers will be produced (and needed) on this planet. They don’t want vegan customers. Those people are already doing what Swing Kitchen wants them to do. They want meat-eaters who opt-in for vegan food.
I love that!
However, it seems that veganism is becoming more mainstream every day (at least in Berlin). People are getting curious about the taste of plant-based food, and so, for the first time, Swing Kitchen is going to be bold and outspoken about being vegan. Given “2019 is the year of the vegan,” it seems fine – and highly appropriate – to suddenly be much louder about it. That’s exciting.
When Moriz asked me to also help out with the social media strategy, I must admit I wasn’t too excited about it. As someone who grew up on the internet, I feel like social media is becoming more and more outdated every day. It’s become so much more about commerce and so much less about adding value to people’s lives or about connection. People are getting tired, and I don’t want to add to the noise on the internet. I’d much rather build great products and have others talk about it then tell brands how to talk about themselves. It’s not exciting, and mostly, it doesn’t work.
At least it no longer works for the “target” group I associate with and the social media platform where people in this target group hang out – Instagram. But then, there are other groups who are excited about the internet and find things entertaining and worthy of their time.
You might have guessed correctly: I’m talking about TikTok.
To me, TikTok is like the modern version of the German and Dutch TV format Mini-Playbackshow in which kids dressed up and pretended they were famous singers. However, this time, the fun isn’t done after 60 minutes. It can quite frankly be as long as you want it to. TikTok is where employees record videos when they’re bored on break. It’s where girls and boys dress up and have the sort of fun I used to have when I was dancing in the living room in the 90s.. just, obviously, without the camera.
On one hand, I have very little interest in keeping kids fixated on their screens. Then again, if I have to tell kids to do something, I’d much rather ask them to eat vegan burgers than regular burgers. And, as you know, you have to use the weapons that exist and are accepted already.
TikTok is fun. I can only recommend you download it and browse around a little. As I was playing around with the app myself and trying to figure out how TikTok could be useful for brands, I uploaded a video and was astonished to find out it had more than 800 views within just an hour. If your target audience is in their teens, you might want to stop wasting your time on Facebook and Instagram and instead move to TikTok. Is this meaningful? Not really. Can it be made useful? That’s the real question!
Because September is usually the month when everyone goes back to school I thought about how I could give my approach to communication a different perspective. I thought about what courses I could take and how I could get better at what I do. I’ve signed up for improv classes at the Comedy Café Berlin. AndI’ve also started taking Dutch courses. I’ve been spending crazy amounts of time on Duolingo! While my screen time has increased to astronomical heights, so has my Dutch vocabulary. It’s very satisfying. At least for now.
Furthermore, I’ve applied to two mentoring programs for a business idea I have, and I’m happy to say I got accepted to both. I’ll be working with a mentor in Berlin through the Act-On Plastic Program initiated by ProjectTogether, and I’ll also get to spend three days with the coaches of MOE in the Dream Factory program. I know it might sound strange to do such a program as a participant given I’m usually on the mentoring side. However, it feels really good to have someone hold my hand for a change.
Before I wrap up what I’ve been up to this past August, I’d love to mention the books I’ve read and found very valuable. “Food Bigger Than the Plate” is the exhibition catalog of a V&A exhibition with the same name. It’s a great read to learn more about the current discourse on what we eat and how it needs to change. “You and I Eat the Same” is a conference catalog from MAD in Copenhagen and an examination of the similarities in food cultures across the planet. Last but not least, Chmara:Rosinke gave me their latest book “Essays on Kitchens,” which is inspiring as well.
As you can see, August was a little bit all over. September is probably going to be similar in terms of my workload. The good news is I’ll be available in October. Have you got a project you’d like to discuss? At the moment, I’m available for branding, copywriting, and business development strategy.