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STUDY: Meat substitutes are still tricky to market to consumers despite pandemic growth

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The study can be used as a word of caution to marketers, who may not fully appreciate the consequences of adding particular colors to particular product descriptors, in marketing meat substitutes.

PATRICK LEJTENYI: The plant-based/meat alternative market has been growing for years, but it was during the pandemic that its profile soared. Meat substitutes remain relatively niche products, however. So how can its proponents break through to consumers?

Caroline Roux, associate professor of marketing at the John Molson School of Business, and Daniella Sucapane recently published a paper on the topic in the journal Appetite. In it, they argue that a particular combination of product descriptors and packaging colors can appeal to the flexitarian consumer—those who lean toward vegetarianism but who still enjoy the odd meat-based meal…

The researchers conducted two studies that looked at how descriptors and colors affected consumer behavior. In the first, they tested how they responded to the terms “plant-based” and “meat alternative,” two common industry descriptors. In the second, they looked at how packaging colors affected consumers’ perceptions and behavioral intentions…

The participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Each group was given almost identical descriptions of a pea-protein patty made by the Canadian company Lightlife, except that the product was described as “plant-based ground” for one group and “meat alternative ground” for the other. Front-of-package labeling identified each as either “Made from plants” or “Meat made from plants” respectively. The packaging’s color was changed from the usual red to the more neutral brown. Participants were then asked to rate the products on a variety of scales from one to seven…

The results were surprising, according to the researchers. They found that the participants were more likely to consider the matching red-meat alternative more eco-friendly than the mis-matching green-meat alternative, and increased trial likelihood. The matching green-plant based descriptor was associated with decreased anticipated feelings of satiety. No effects were found on perceptions about health, ethicality or expected enjoyment…

Roux explains that the study can be used as a word of caution to marketers, who may not fully appreciate the consequences of adding particular colors to particular product descriptors, especially in new markets like meat substitutes. “It is a category that is still being transformed and trying to find its space in the retail environment,” she adds. “Sometimes it is found alongside products like tofu or veggie burgers, the traditional first generation of meat substitutes. In other cases, you will find it in the meat section. These are very different reference points that marketers should consider, as certain cues can unknowingly sway perceptions of different products.” SOURCE…

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