The Key To Changing Meat Eaters To Plant Eaters

The Lempert Report
March 19, 2019

NPR’s The Salt has a terrific column about a new report from the Better Buying Lab: Focus less on the meat-free or health aspects of plant-based foods.

This tends to make consumers feel like they're missing out – and more on their flavor, mouthfeel and provenance, so it's "appealing to the inner food critic within all of us," says Daniel Vennard head of the World Resources Institute's Better Buying Lab.

The Salt points out that if you're an omnivore starving while staring at a menu, it can be hard for the future of planet Earth to compete with the appeal of a big, juicy burger.

"The language for meat, and beef in particular, just sounds so much more delicious," says Vennard. And labels like "meat-free," "vegan," and "vegetarian" tend to be turnoffs for consumers. "People don't create positive associations with how it's going to taste and don't feel it's very indulgent."

The Better Buying Lab teamed up with food companies in the U.K. and U.S., including fast-casual chain Panera Bread. The company had a "Vegetarian Black Bean Soup" on the menu that was originally labeled as low-fat. Customers who tried the soup seemed to like it, but the name didn't seem to encourage a lot of new customers to try it, Sara Burnett, Panera's vice president for wellness and food policy told The Salt.

When it rebranded the dish as "Cuban black bean soup" in a test at 18 stores in Los Angeles and California's Central Valley, sales went up by 13 percent.

"'Cuban', in a lot of folks' minds, when they react to that they think of a flavor profile," says Burnett. "They think of a little bit of heat, a little bit of spice, and that makes people hungry."

Better Buying Lab conducted another test with Sainsbury's, a major supermarket chain in the U.K., and had even more dramatic results writes The Salt. When Sainsbury's rebranded its "Meat-Free Sausage and Mash" as "Cumberland-Spiced Veggie Sausage and Mash" — a name that evokes a traditional British sausage preparation— sales went up by a whopping 76 percent.

It’s all about the words.