Voices: Thought veganism would never catch on? Try the next big trend: home burials
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivered his “budget for growth” last week, and everyone acknowledges that the lack of it is a national malaise. But where is that growth going to come from? Where should the nation’s budding entrepreneurs be looking, to fuel the bold new innovations that will create new markets and enrich both themselves and the shared economy?
The routine answer is technology – alluded to in the budget with measures to supercharge IT investment. But why? The tendency to see breakthrough disruption, and all the opportunity that cascades from it, as a supply-side phenomenon is a lazy default.
Coming the other way, and every bit as exciting, is disruption that emanates from the demand side – where consumers in their millions change habits and adopt new ways of going about their lives, propelling new categories, inspiring new ways to market, creating new winners and fuelling new growth.
A recent example is the explosive rise of veganism. For decades, vegans were a tiny minority, camped well inside the margins of the 1 per cent of the UK population. Then, within the space of a few years from around 2017, the concept broke through and thousands of us are vegan (at least some of the time).
What propelled that switch was a new understanding of the health benefits of a vegan diet, and the realisation that “vegan” could be a now-and-then thing – a lunch choice, not a life choice. The beneficiaries were those that saw the societal change early, and backed it for all they were worth. The Swedish oat milk brand Oatly was one. It both drove and rode the move to non-dairy milks, and floated on the Nasdaq in 2021 for $13bn.
There is actually technology behind that brand: the means to derive an alternative milk product from oats, which had been discovered at Lund University, Sweden, in the early 1990s. But the technology itself was not the fulcrum of the success that made billionaires of the two brothers who launched Oatly in 2001 and marketed it patiently for two decades. Behaviour change was.
So, what should our own country’s future billionaires be eying now, as the next example of consumer-driven disruption? What is the next veganism, and what are the signs that it will be big?
A clue is that it will seem unlikely right now – just as veganism did until well into the 21st century. But some people will be doing it, somewhere on the fringes, and they will feel strongly about it. That passion is a marker – the intensity that one day could overcome the resistance of the mainstream and burst through.
Home burial is one to consider. The people who choose to bury family members within the gardens or grounds of their home feel the comforting power of proximity with their deceased loved ones. What could stop it going big is sheer practicality; as one respondent in the research I have carried out into marginal behaviours over the past two years put it: “Well I can’t exactly bury my dad on the balcony, can I?”
No. But a question to ask at points like this is: what is this behaviour telling us? The answer is that people are not happy with the options in the deathcare category and yearn for more personalised alternatives. Some US entrepreneurs are already seizing on this. In Austin, Texas, Eterneva is a business that turns human ashes into diamonds.
Naturism may be due a popularity boost. It’s what used to be called nudism, and that relatively recent verbal switch – a reframing – is a clue to possible renewed interest in it from a broader section of the population. It plays well to today’s sustainability narrative, and it’s not hard to see at least diluted forms of it transforming the leisure or experiential industries.
Even polyamory – the consensual sharing of romantic partners – might offer opportunities. The evidence from my research is that salaciousness has given way to a more open-minded curiosity about it in recent years. Entrepreneurs will need to be imaginative about how to serve this growing community, but my bet is that somebody will, and we’ll all end up wondering why we didn’t think of it first.
Reflect on all the things that nobody much once did, and millions do now. Tattoos. Mindfulness. Even exercise. A US senator out jogging in 1968 was stopped by police because the “fad” was in its early days and a man running down the street was cause for suspicion. Some fad. It swept the US, then the rest of the world, and propelled the personal fitness revolution; not to mention all the great brands, from Nike to Peloton, that eventually came with it.
Behaviour first. Technology second. Out there somewhere on the fringes is a movement, a behaviour, a way of life that is tiny today but will be mass tomorrow. The real challenge for our brave young entrepreneurs is to find it and ride it for all it is worth.
Dr Helen Edwards is a consultant, writer, and adjunct associate professor of marketing at London Business School. Her book From Marginal to Mainstream: Why Tomorrow’s Brand Growth Will Come From the Fringes – and How to Get There First is published by Kogan Page