Labelling plant-based food ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ boosted sales by 24%

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New research shows that the terminology used in the labelling of plant-based food and meat analogues could have a considerable bearing on how well it sells. 

The authors of a new study published this week in the Journal of Experimental Psychology were able to shows that labelling products ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’, as opposed to ‘plant-based’, increased sales by a striking 24%. 

The study team, from the Department of Psychology, University of California, says that while plant-based foods offer great promise for improving environmental sustainability, getting people to replace meat based meals with plant-based meals is often challenging. When the team considered the role of terminology in this area they identified a “knowledge gap” in the scientific literature. Comparatively little is known, they say, about which descriptor for plant-based foods – calling them plant-based or vegetarian/vegan – is the most likely to encourage people to make more plant-based choices. 

Through a 10-week field experiment, which analysed over 160,000 consumer decisions, the team investigated how different ‘frames’ for vegetarian and vegan menu items influence consumer behaviour in a real-world setting. 

The authors write: “We randomly varied whether vegetarian and vegan items on a restaurant’s menu were referred to as ‘vegetarian’ and ‘vegan vs. ‘Plant-based’. Throughout the experiment, we tracked 167,637 consumer decisions. Items were 24% more likely to sell when they were marketed as vegetarian/vegan than when they were marketed as plant-based. These findings highlight the potential for frames to promote plant-based food choices, offering a subtle strategy for changing consumer behaviour and supporting sustainability efforts.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

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