Strategies to Drive Plant-Based Food Sales
By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor
Consumer interest in a plant-forward eating pattern continues to grow and providing shopper guidance to natural plant foods, new plant-based products and foodservice options in the supermarket can help promote healthy sales and lifestyles. However, when talking about plant-based foods it’s important to use the right “language” to enhance your customer’s appetites for them. Based on research form the World Resource Institute’s (W.R.I.) Better Buying Lab, they identified ways the food industry should and shouldn’t talk about these foods to help increase the appeal and sales.
- Don’t use “meat-free” – This term can alienate a large part of your customer base. The example shared by W.R.I. showed that a Sainsbury’s supermarket cafe in Truro, England, tested alternative names for its “meat-free sausage and mash” to see if sales would change. Sales actually increased 76% when they used the name “Cumberland-spiced veggie sausage & mash” and 51% when using “Field-grown sausage and mash”. Their take - It’s simply counterproductive to communicate that a food is ‘free’ of meat if your goal is to appeal to more meat eaters.
- Don’t use “vegan” or “vegetarian” - The word “vegan” tends to conjure a “different from me” reaction in some consumers, W.R.I. said and to many consumers, “vegetarian” means healthy — but unsatisfying. While a vegan lifestyle is more popular now than even a few years ago, especially for younger shoppers, the negative perception of older shoppers many still persist. To this end, W.R.I. recommends using a symbol, such as a leaf, on menu boards or shelf tags to indicate a dish is suitable for vegans.
- Do highlight origin - In a time when more consumers want to know where their food comes from, descriptions that highlight the origin of a product or ingredient can be a big selling point. For example, a Panera Bread in Los Angeles switched the name of its “low-fat vegetarian black bean soup” to “Cuban black bean soup” in a month-long test in 2018. The swap led to a 13% uplift in sales. At retail, plant-based food brands Field Roast, Garden Gourmet and Sweet Earth incorporate the link between their foods and the natural environment in their brand names. A tactic that could also be used for retail food service.
- Do focus on flavor - Emphasizing how a dish will taste will automatically increase its appeal. Alex Petrides, co-founder of Allplants, a plant-based foods delivery company in the UK, learned that names highlighting the delicious, distinctive flavors of their foods, such as ‘Smoky soul chili’ and ‘Fiery jerk jackfruit,’ were much more successful. Also, a 2018 Stanford study supports the idea that highlighting flavor increases sales of plant-rich dishes. Flavor-focused labels such as “Zesty ginger turmeric sweet potatoes” were chosen by diners 41% more often over identically prepared vegetables with healthy restrictive labels and 25% more often than those with basic labels.
- Do emphasize look and feel - Call out those culinary qualities that make that dish delicious and unique to create appeal. Describing the color of a dish, for example, like a “Rainbow salad” conjures up the anticipation of a fresh, vibrant and flavor-filled dish which can signal what the food will taste like. Mouthfeel matters, too. Using terminology such as creamy, warming and crunchy can significantly increase the likelihood of someone picking up a prepared food item.