Insights from 4A’s Research | Plant-Based? I’ll Have What She’s Having!

By, Stacie Calabrese, Manager, 4A’s Research, [email protected], using exclusive survey data from Researchscape.



Plant-based meat alternatives like Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger are popping up everywhere, from fast food chains to the stock market. 4A’s Research partnered with Researchscape, an agile market research consultancy, to survey 1,000 consumers on their eating habits around cutting consumption of meat.

Although many still identify as carnivore or omnivore, 27% reported following a diet that reduced red meat, such as pescetarian or pollo-vegetarian. Vegetarians and vegans still clock in at 5% and 3% respectively, along with an additional 5% describing their diets as “plant-based”. These numbers are similar to a 2018 poll from Gallup.

The Researchscape survey found that 43% reported participating in “Meatless Mondays”, a movement centered around eating vegetarian or vegan diets on Mondays. These flexitarians are driving meatless brands into the spotlight, and consumers who are interested in reducing expenses, increasing their health, and helping the environment are the primary targets for these brands.

A 2018 survey from Nielsen found double-digit sales growth in several plant-based categories, including plant-based cream (25%), cheese alternatives (45%) and meat alternatives (30%). With these numbers, it’s clear that the vegetarian and vegan consumers aren’t responsible for all of this growth. What’s the best way to help a brand reach even more meat-eating consumers? Like anything else, it’s all in the messaging.

It may seem counter-intuitive that terms like vegan and vegetarian should be avoided when describing products that are just that, but it may conjure up the wrong message, such as being healthy but unsatisfying or containing strange, bland or unfamiliar ingredients.

Similarly, using terminology that focuses on what’s not in the product can make consumers feel like they are missing out on something, so it’s best to avoid using terms like meatless. Instead of talking about what’s missing, focus on the exciting features of the item, such as its origin or flavor profile.

Panera Bread, a sandwich bakery-café, recently tested two different names for a soup that was previously known as Low-fat Vegetarian Black Bean Soup. The restaurant changed the name to Slow Simmered Black Bean Soup in 22 locations and to Cuban Black Bean Soup in 18 locations. The soup was unchanged, but the Cuban Black Bean Soup saw an average 13% uplift. By using language that pointed to a specific origin and flavor profile, the soup was presented in a way that showcases what it has, not what it doesn’t (fat).

Another endeavor at Stanford sought to increase consumption of vegetables in a large university cafeteria. Like Panera Bread, the preparation of the vegetables remained the same but were assigned different names that were categorized as indulgent (zesty ginger-turmeric sweet potatoes), basic (sweet potatoes), healthy restrictive (cholesterol-free sweet potatoes), and healthy positive (wholesome sweet potato superfood). When the vegetable dish was labeled indulgently, 25% more people selected it compared to when it was labeled with the basic terms and 41% more than when it was labeled in a healthy restrictive way.

Using delicious, indulgent descriptions for healthy or healthier foods is a simple and effective way to drive interest and increase sales. With more and more people moving towards reducing meat and following a flexitarian lifestyle, savvy marketers will focus on appealing to those consumers to drive interest more broadly.

Learn more: World Resources Institute. It’s All in a Name: How to Boost the Sales of Plant-Based Menu Items


We’re excited to announce that ResearchScape is a member of AAP, which provides exclusive discounts for 4A’s members. Learn more about Researchscape and its custom survey service here! Contact Tony Cheevers, VP, Business Development, [email protected] with any questions.