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Shira Horn, an expert in marketing, consumer insights and research at AMC Global, shares how the plant-based market can respond to scepticism about vegan food by gathering insights, getting to know the consumer and considering their priorities.

In recent years, plant-based foods have gained tremendous popularity, with an increasing number of consumers adopting a plant-based diet or at least incorporating more plant-based options into their meals. According to Future Market Insights, the global plant-based food market is expected to expand by three times between 2023 and 2033 from $11.3 billion to $35.9 billion.

While this trend may be seen as a positive shift towards a more sustainable and healthy lifestyle, it has not been without its fair share of scepticism. Many people still have reservations about plant-based foods on various fronts when evaluating options during purchasing decisions, especially when it comes to the ever-important aspect of taste.

In good taste

One of our recent studies indicates that taste is a primary driver behind food and beverage product choices in the marketplace, and many consumers feel plant-based products fall short. Whether they’re looking for a meat analogue that perfectly matches their beef burger or a cheese that has the right tang and texture of cheddar, the palatability of these products influences not only repeat purchases but also the consumer’s readiness to continue to explore plant-based alternatives. Consumers have a great deal of scepticism about plant-based alternatives matching the rich and savoury tastes they crave.

However, the plant-based and animal-free food industry has made significant strides in improving the taste and texture of their products. Innovations in food technology have allowed for the creation of options that closely mimic the flavors and textures of traditional meat and dairy products. And market research is a key component in success – gathering feedback directly from consumers helps brands working in the plant-based space innovate and evolve products for better taste and texture.

For example, New Culture has recently been developing a creamy and melty ‘animal-free’ mozzarella product for pizza with both the taste and stretchiness of the traditional version of this beloved cheese. And we see strides on the meat analogue front as well, with companies like Good Catch and Hungry Planet developing interesting and authentic seafood from plant-based sources.

Health matters

Some consumers are sceptical regarding claims about nutritional benefits or health impact benefits from plant-based foods. Shoppers, when looking at the nutritional content of these products, worry that they may not receive adequate protein, vitamins and minerals from a plant-based diet. While it is true that plant-based diets often require a little more planning to ensure all nutrients are included, it is entirely possible to get all the nutrients your body needs from plant sources.

Plant-based diets can offer a wide range of health benefits, including lower cholesterol and reduced risk of chronic diseases, when appropriately balanced. Even though studies have shown plant-based can improve specific health concerns, many are still sceptical when products shout out about these claims. Discerning consumers question the validity of health claims made by these food and beverage manufacturers and fear they may be driven by marketing rather than science.

The scientific community continues to study the long-term health effects of plant-based diets, and current evidence suggests that when properly balanced, they can be a healthy choice for the physical body on many fronts. Food and beverage companies should look to scientific studies that can back up any positive health claims made about plant-based products, ensuring that they are communicating their health credentials authentically to consumers clearly and informative.

Planet-friendly picks

Many consumers may consider plant-based foods as a more sustainable option at the grocery store, as many of these products claim to offer a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional animal-based products. The production of plant-based foods typically requires significantly less land, water and resources while generating fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to animal-based products. By reducing the reliance on animal agriculture, plant-based diets help mitigate deforestation and pollution as well as meet concerns regarding the ethical treatment of animals.

However, just like with health claims, consumers are sceptical of plant-based product claims to sustainability – they are on the lookout for greenwashing. Greenwashing is the act of misleadingly portraying a company or its products as being more environmentally friendly than their actual impact on the environment. Countering greenwashing through market research insights to build authenticity, transparency and credibility for sustainable brands empowers informed consumer choices and fosters genuine sustainability initiatives.

What’s the cost?

Cost and accessibility of plant-based products is another factor contributing to scepticism in this arena. Shoppers have the perception that plant-based foods are more expensive and less accessible than traditional animal-based products. Meatless alternatives are made on a smaller scale and this is what often drives up cost over, for example, beef. After demand and supply increases sufficiently for a plant-based product, prices will also drop. As the demand for plant-based options grows, more grocery stores and restaurants are expanding their offerings. In turn, we may see the higher prices of most of these items stabilise in the marketplace.

Get to know the consumer

Scepticism about plant-based foods happens on many fronts, from taste to health to sustainability. However, by deeply understanding the consumer – and the roadblocks to adoption – through gathering the right insights directly from consumers themselves, plant-based brands can still make good headway in the ever-evolving market.

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Opinion: Navigating plant-based scepticism

News Desk

2 February 2024

Opinion: Navigating plant-based scepticism

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