What’s In A Name?: Sustainability, Menus, And Food Selection
As any advertising executive will tell you: presentation matters. For vegan and vegetarian food to become popular, people have to be drawn to it over meat. While many plant-based foods emphasize their healthiness or friendliness to vegetarians, this may not be the best choice when it comes to naming. This study attempted to determine what phrasing best advances the selection of plant-based foods, by surveying British meat-eaters about their attitudes towards vegetarian dishes based on name.
In the first phase, roughly 700 participants were asked to rank their attitudes towards various vegetarian dish names on a scale of 1-7, with 7 being the highest. Eight dishes were selected, each with a control name and seven or eight alternatives. For example, the control name of “Vegetable Lasagna” was compared to “Florentine Lasagna,” “Triple-cheese and Slow-roasted Vegetable Lasagna,” and “Mediterranean pasta bake,” among others. No participant was shown more than one name for the same dish – the comparison was done across subjects. Price and dish description were also shown, as were some situational prompts (imagine you’re meeting a friend for lunch, etc.).
The best-performing dish names, as well as the controls, were selected for the next phase of the study, which involved roughly 2000 participants. Each participant was given five menus and asked to order one dish from each. Each menu contained one of the vegetarian dishes, as well as four meat-based dishes. Again, price and dish description were given, as were situational prompts. However, the vegetarian dish was not marked with a (V) or other symbol.
The results were mixed. Several of the dishes saw no significant rise in appeal with their name changes. The various names for “Black Bean Burger,” for example, had a variation of only 2.85 to 3.6, with the control name scoring a 3. However, other dishes did see noticeable changes in popularity. The “Meat-Free Breakfast” only scored a 3.66 with its control name, but shot up to 4.86 when described as “Feel-good Fry Up,” and 4.89 when called “Super Value Breakfast.”
In phase 2, vegetarian dishes did not perform amazingly well, with none cracking the 25% popularity mark, and most hovering between 12% and 18%. Three dishes performed significantly better after name changes. “Chickpea and Potato Curry” had a 7.2% popularity, but shot up to 15% when changed to “Mild and Sweet Curry.” “Meat-free Breakfast” started with a 6.8% share, but rose to 13.1% when changed to “Field Grown Breakfast.” Finally, “Meat-free Sausage and Mash” rose from 5.3% to 12.8% when changed to “Better Sausage and Mash.” Vegetable lasagna was the most popular vegetarian dish, with its control name obtaining 18% popularity, “Florentine Lasagna” obtaining 23.4%, and “Triple-cheese and Slow-roasted Vegetable Lasagna” obtaining 23%, and “Mediterranean Lasagna” with 19.3%.
It’s worth noting that both the first placed dish and second-placed dish (Gnocchi with Mushroom, Spinach, and Parmesan) contained cheese. In addition, the “Meat-Free Breakfast” contained two eggs.
The authors found that the best-performing names were those which emphasized a sensory experience, like “Mild and Sweet Curry” or “Melt-in-the-mouth gnocchi.” Names that emphasized the healthiness or sustainability of a dish were less popular, as was the phrase “meat-free.” The authors suggest “Field Grown” as a replacement for the latter, as it did reasonably well in both phases of this study.
As animal advocates, this research should alter how we present vegan food; rather than focusing on the vegan-ness, healthiness, or sustainability factors, we should emphasize taste, texture, or other sensory experiences.The authors suggest that restaurants and food companies present vegetarian and vegan food with indulgent, experiential language, rather than health-conscious, virtuous, or basic names. They also call for further research into the subject, as their own study was limited to the U.K. and was not perfectly representative of the population.