More than 80% of those surveyed by California-based food consultant Mattson say they prefer the term “plant-based” to “vegan” when describing a diet that avoids meat, dairy or any animal products, according to Food Navigator. Respondents said the term “100% plant-based” is more flexible and offers more for the consumer, and describes food that tastes better and is healthier than those labeled “vegan.”
- Barb Stuckey, Mattson president and chief innovation officer, told Food Navigator this is because consumers see “plant-based” as a positive food choice, but consider "vegan" a lifestyle including deprivation, allegiance to a self-defining cause — animal rights or environmentalism — and serious commitment, said. Changing the conversation can change make food taste better in the eyes of consumers, she suggested.
- Three in four of those surveyed said they’d like to consume more plant-based foods for health benefits, followed by a desire to lose weight and feel better or for environmental reasons. Almost half said they plan to eat more plant-based foods in the future. About a third said they plan to eat less meat, eggs and dairy. These trends offer a huge market opportunity for companies specializing in plant-based foods, Stuckey told Food Navigator.
Vegan food and drink contains no animal products. There is a strict certification process by the Vegan Awareness Foundation to get this label on food. Thousands of products made by more than 800 companies worldwide are, most notably dairy-free ice creams from Ben & Jerry’s, which partnered with Vegan Action to create and market vegan options. For companies looking to reach the purist population, it makes sense to label and market specific products as vegan, making it easier to find the products, and in turn, earn loyal customers.
A plant-based diet, on the other hand, tend to mean different things to different people. It could be anything from excluding animal-based products to simply adding more fresh fruits or plant-based proteins to the plate. Customers may not be clear what it is, but they know what they want.
According to HealthFocus International data, 17% of U.S. consumers aged 15 to 70 currently claim to eat a predominately plant-based diet, while 60% report to be cutting back on meat-based products. Of those who say they are reducing their meat intake, more than half said they don’t plan to go back, and 22% said they hope the change is lifelong.
HealthFocus International's General Manager of Research Steven Walton said at an Institute of Food Technologists conference that much of the change comes because consumers want to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their daily diets, a shift he sees through every consumer demographic and age group. Industry leaders may do well to listen to this warning about becoming too distracted by terms like vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian, and instead focus on the idea of healthier, whole foods.
Some companies are showing success. Good Karma Foods launched in 2012 as the first non-dairy beverage made from flaxseed. It has since launched a flax-based, non-dairy yogurt — which the company says is growing by 50% annually. The company’s products are sold at mainstream grocers like Target, Wegmans and Giant.
Beyond Meat also made a splash in 2012 when its plant-based chicken strips and burgers were a hit at Whole Foods stores, and today its products also can be found in big box stores such as Target and Walmart.
Companies hoping to appeal to the smaller group of strict and loyal vegans may do well to do niche marketing to that audience. Overall, the majority of today’s consumers are calling for more healthful, flavorful and convenient foods. Manufacturers may be better served marketing those aspects of their products instead of turning to specific labels, which may only confuse or turn off potential customers.