Vegan, Vegetarian, And Meat-Free Labels 'Reduce Food Sales', Says Study

Researchers say they have identified four kinds of language restaurants and the food industry should avoid, and three it should embrace, to 'accelerate the shift'.
Woman reading food label
Consumers can be put off by the v-word, according to research (Photo: Adobe. Do not use without permission)

Using labels like 'vegan' and 'meat-free' can actually put consumers off buying products, according to new research.

The World Resources Institute's Better Buying Lab says it has spent two years taking 'an in-depth look at what works and what doesn't when it comes to describing plant-rich foods in a way that appeals to broad swaths of the United States and British populations'.

The Institute says it has identified four kinds of language restaurants and the food industry should avoid, and three it should embrace, to 'accelerate the shift'.

Vegan label?

The types language the Institute says are off-putting to consumers include; the word 'vegan,' the word 'meat-free', the word 'vegetarian', and then 'health-related' language including terms like 'low-fat', which it says have low appeal.

On the topic of the word vegan, the research says: "In a study of British newspapers in 2011, 74 percent of 397 articles containing the word 'vegan' portrayed the diet, which includes no animal products, as difficult or impossible to maintain and often associated it with terms like restrictive, faddists, hippie, and weak. Not much has changed in the years since.

"In 2017, the Better Buying Lab commissioned Brandwatch, a leading social media analytics company, to scan 15.4 million posts across Twitter, Instagram, blogs and forums from Britain and the United States that included references to plant-based, vegan and vegetarian food. The term 'vegan' was more than twice as likely to be used in negative contexts as 'plant-based'."

The report adds that Edward Crook, Global Research vice president at Brandwatch, believes that 'vegan' may be alienating consumers, saying: "Our analysis found the vegan lexicon to be quite divisive online, and it may prevent some people from experimenting with the growing range of plant-based proteins available. To broaden mainstream appeal, new language is needed that avoids an ‘us-them' mentality."

Vegan options

Some experts believe there are ways of clearing marking food as vegan - while circumventing this negative reaction.

"I agree that putting some 'free-from' labels on the front of food products, as well as 'vegan' or 'vegetarian', particularly in large letters, may be off-putting to some consumers," Katrina Fox, author of Vegan Ventures: Start and Grow an Ethical Business, told Plant Based News.

"However, there is a middle way: Use enticing, tantalizing, 'sexy' descriptions on the front, but on the back of the packaging, include a small 'vegan-friendly' note or vegan trademark.

"That way those who are keen to know if a product is vegetarian or vegan can quickly identify it as such, while others are not turned off."

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are prepared in the author's capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Plant Based News itself. 

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PBN Contributor:

Maria is the Editor of Plant Based News. A former magazine editor, newspaper reporter, and features writer, her work has been published by The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and various regional newspapers. She was previously the editor of Vegan Life magazine and Vegan Trade Journal. She has interviewed a huge range of people, from Prime Ministers to authors, activists, pop stars and actors, and enjoys the varied range of topics writing for PBN allows her to tackle. You can follow her on Twitter @MariaChiorando and Instagram @mariachiorando.

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