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STUDY: Taste alone won’t persuade Americans to swap out beef for plant-based burgers

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Research suggests highlighting the social benefits of plant-based menu items would convince more consumers to choose them over meat-based options. But main plant-based meat brands, tend to market their vegetarian burgers with claims of tastes and textures.

ANNA MATTILA: Consumers are more likely to choose a plant-based meat substitute when the restaurant’s advertising highlights the social benefits of doing so rather than its taste, according to recently published research I conducted with a colleague. We also found that showcasing the social costs of meat consumption also leads to a preference for plant-based “meats.”

To reach this conclusion, we conducted two online experiments to examine the advertising of plant-based burgers and meatballs. Participants were recruited via the crowdsourcing website Amazon Mechanical Turk.

In the first one, 156 participants were shown one of three commercials for a plant-based burger. They saw either a social appeal (“good for the environment and animal welfare”), a health appeal (“good for your health – no cholesterol and more fiber”) or a taste appeal (“tasty and delicious – just like a beef burger”). In all three commercials, we presented nutritional information that showed plant-based burgers had similar levels of calories and protein as that of beef – which is generally true in the real world… They were then asked to record their burger preference on a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 indicated they definitely wanted a conventional beef burger and 7 meant they definitely wanted the plant-based version.

Participants exposed to the advertising that appealed to their social conscience were more likely to select the plant-based burger than those who saw the health or taste-based ads… Appealing to taste didn’t work because American consumers believe the taste of beef is superior to that of plant-based meat…

In a second study, we provided 160 different participants with information on the social and health costs of meat consumption. We then asked them to state their preferences for a beef meatball sandwich or a plant-based one on the same 7-point sliding scale. Similar to the appeal to the social benefits, highlighting the costs led to a stronger preference for the plant-based version…

Why it matters?…The research suggests that highlighting the social benefits of plant-based menu items would convince more consumers to choose them over meat-based options, thus reducing overall meat consumption and greenhouse gas emissions… But Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, the two main plant-based brands, tend to market their vegetarian burgers with claims of tastes and textures that are similar to that of meat. SOURCE…

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