Over the past few years, describing products as vegan has increasingly been considered a bad idea. Industry leaders have recommended that companies avoid using “v-words” on their meat-free products. Many advocates feel that the words “vegan” or “vegetarian” may turn people off.
Part of this perception is based on studies showing that putting meat-free options in a separate “vegetarian” section of your menu reduces sales. Also, the word “vegan” reduces foods’ appeal for more consumers than other common labels like “diet,” “sugar-free,” or “gluten-free.” As a result, the term “plant-based” has been widely adopted as an alternative to “vegan” and “vegetarian.”
There are some good reasons for this move, at least theoretically: The term focuses on what a product contains rather than what it lacks, and it doesn’t have the social baggage associated with veganism. However, none of this research had directly compared the terms “plant-based” and “vegan.”
We started off by crowd-sourcing a list of potential terms for meat alternatives. We then narrowed the list of suggestions down to 20 and tested them for appeal with meat consumers. The terms included options like direct protein, harmless, and feel-good . We also included vegan and plant-based. When people thought about them one at a time in this study, they were all rated as pretty neutral in terms of appeal, with not many differences between them.
But we decided to test for differences as strongly as possible, by pitting the eight best labels directly against one another, head-to-head. Here’s what we found.
Most people preferred the label vegan over plant-based (and most other options!). Counter to commonly held assumptions, consumers said that a vegan burger sounded better than a plant-based burger in a head-to-head comparison. In fact, only feel-good outperformed vegan as a label.
The success of this positive label suggests playing up the ability of meat-free eating to make a person, well, feel good. In a domain steeped with health and morality messaging, adding a broader, positivity-based approach may be successful with a large number of people.
Finally, we found that to appeal to men, especially young men, avoid vegan and plant-based. By contrast, the label direct protein showed more promise with men. Using terms like that—or avoiding labels altogether—may be the most successful approach for appealing to young men.
It’s important to draw a little asterisk here, because the terms themselves aren’t a neutral thing: some terms, like feel-good, are more general and less objectively descriptive than plant-based. In other words, feel-good describes a feeling, while plant-based actually describes what’s in (or not in) the food.
More research with other methods and target products is needed, but our study suggests that labeling a product simply as plant-based may appeal to a smaller segment of consumers than many other options, notably including vegan. This doesn’t mean that we need to use the word vegan excessively; however, a small V logo or “suitable for vegans” label could actually help draw people to vegan products.
Overall, the study shows that we need a range of strategies to appeal to a range of consumers. As our findings suggest, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to labeling. For advocates, this means targeting your messages to specific groups in specific ways. For marketers, as more and more companies manufacture animal product alternatives, they can target different niches. A range of strategies is likely the best approach.
Faunalytics wants to help you along your journey to Know More, until a day when there is No More animal abuse. Thank you so much for checking out our study summary video. Be sure to subscribe to our channel to be updated when we release videos about our studies and others, and check out the full study at the link below.