The study further highlights the political divide in views about plant-based meat, with the conservative consumers less likely than liberals to try it, and generally less interested in even considering it. Plant-based brands need to change the way they speak to consumers about this issue to better engage steadfast meat-eaters.
JENNIFER YULE: Despite sustained growth for several years, sales of plant-based meat products are now stagnating. Even market leaders like Beyond Meat are hitting significant lows…
The environmental benefits of adopting a diet that is less reliant on meat have been well-established. As UK nature presenter David Attenborough has pointed out: “We must change our diet. The planet can’t support billions of meat-eaters.”
So, working out why consumers are cooling towards this once-hot product is crucial, not only from a business point of view but to support the environmental benefits of low- or no-meat diets.
Price and healthiness are important. However, a growing ideological divide over the environment means traditional ways of encouraging people to eat plant-based meat – promoting its green credentials – could be harming sales, according to research…
But alongside price and healthiness, image also plays an important role in the success of plant-based brands, according to my research with Krista Hill Cummings of Babson College, Massachusetts. In particular, how brands present the environmental benefits of plant-based meat can have a significant impact on the kinds of consumers that buy this type of food.
The issue of climate change and environmental concern is politically polarising, however. Since the 1990s, environmentalism has been depicted as a left-wing ideological issue, particularly in the US. So, our study sought to examine the role of political beliefs in driving sales of plant-based meat by, first, establishing a link between a person’s ideology (either conservative or liberal) and their desire to engage with the plant-based meat market. This means everything from becoming aware of the product and developing opinions on it, right through to buying and eating plant-based meats.
A different survey shows that more than half (53%) of US consumers who have not bought or tried plant-based meat may be reluctant to buy a product they view as “woke”. Our study further highlights the political divide in views about plant-based meat, with the conservative consumers we polled less likely than liberals to try it, and generally less interested in even considering it.
We analysed press releases from Beyond Meat to understand how the benefits of plant-based meat are being communicated to consumers, to see if this could be a driver of the ideological divide over plant-based meat. We found that taste, health and the environment are the main messages used by the firm.
Taste and health are product benefits that appeal to both liberal and conservative consumers, according to other research. However, the environment emerged as a more controversial topic. This issue polarised liberal and conservative consumers when it came to perceiving climate change as a problem that could or should be addressed by eating plant-based meat.
To further test the idea that the environment could cause problems when advertising to conservative consumers, we created different messages, varying the environmental content. We developed mock Facebook ads that described either the health and environmental benefits of plant-based meat, or just the health benefits. We found that advertising content based on the environment turned off the conservative consumers involved in our study.
Of course, our study was carried out among US consumers. But the trend of political polarisation seen across Europe, and recent comments about the vegan “wokerati” lifestyle from UK public figures, means we could see similar results in other countries…
We found that environmental messaging is incongruent to conservative consumers, meaning these ads don’t spark either their curiosity or interest. Without that spark, you can’t engage consumers.
More research into, and development of, alternative meats could no doubt improve the nutritional profile, taste and texture of these products, but the environmental case for reducing meat consumption in our diets is clear. Plant-based brands need to change the way they speak to consumers about this issue to better engage steadfast meat-eaters. SOURCE…