About 88 percent of shoppers care about the "authenticity" of their food, so when consumers browse the grocery store, labels can be very important. That's especially true for plant-based products, according to ProVeg International, a global food awareness organization. The consumer group just released two new reports that show just how important specific words can be for discerning shoppers. Surprisingly, most people prefer "100 percent plant-based" over the word "vegan."

The findings looked at data from consumer surveys to gain insight into the shopping habits of both United Kingdom and United States consumers. Called “Plant-based labeling: How common labeling language impacts consumer perception of plant-based products” and “‘Plant-based’ vs ‘vegan’: understanding consumer perceptions of food-labeling terms,” the reports aim to give brands a better understanding of how to reach out and educate shoppers about sustainable and healthy foods.

ProVeg's findings also help support plant-based brands and companies such as Miyoko's Creamery, which has fought ln court to maintain its right to use dairy- and meat-related words like cheese, butter and milk, despite ongoing claims that these labels will confuse customers.

“With the plant-based food industry experiencing huge growth, there are now many products on the shelves to meet consumer demands. But this means that targeting consumers with the right labeling has become more important than ever,” Stephanie Jaczniakowska-McGirr, Director of Corporate Engagement at ProVeg, said. “These reports provide companies with insights that will help them more precisely hone in on their customer base with the right words for the right products,”

Customers Prefer the Term 'Plant-Based' Over 'Vegan'

ProVeg's first survey analyzed the impact of common labeling language for plant-based and plant-forward products. Polling 1,000 UK consumers, ProVeg found that terms such as "100 percent plant-based," "plant-based" and "Veggie" were preferred over "meatless" and "vegan."

Participants responded that "animal-free" and "veggie" sounded tastier and more enjoyable than labels reading "vegan," "plant-based," and "vegetarian." However, labels reading vegan, plant-based, and vegetarian made consumers see the products as healthier, safer, and more nutritious.

The poll also revealed that 96.4 percent of consumers chose vegan nuggets "consciously," refuting common misconceptions that shoppers will accidentally purchase plant-based items when looking for conventional nuggets. About 80 percent of consumers claimed that products labeled as vegan, vegetarian, or plant-based obviously did not contain meat, and 76 percent responded that the labels helped them identify the product.

“It’s great to see that consumers are in fact not confused by ‘meaty terms’ such as ‘nugget’. Our hope is that these results will contribute towards creating a favorable regulatory and labeling landscape for plant-based products, particularly at a time when we’re seeing uncertainty around such topics in Europe,” Jaczniakowska-McGirr said.

“It’s really interesting to see that consumers prefer ‘plant-based’ labels to ‘meat-free’ or ‘vegan’ terminology. These results echo many brands' current labeling strategies, with the use of ‘plant-based’ labels becoming very common, particularly in the UK, where this survey was conducted.”

The Perception of Vegan Products

ProVeg's second report studied consumer perception through an online study conducted last October. This study gauged how well consumers understood the terms of common plant-based and vegan products. ProVeg intends to show how brands can better communicate the benefits of plant-based foods and help shoppers identify them in stores. This survey polled consumers in the U.S. and the UK.

  • 69.4 percent of UK consumers and 61.3 percent of U.S. consumers properly understood the meaning of vegan labels.
  • 50.3 percent of UK consumers and 49.2 percent of U.S. consumers understood the term plant-based correctly.
  • 17 percent of UK consumers and 26.1 percent of U.S. consumers responded that they were unsure if "plant-based" or "vegetarian" foods contained eggs or dairy
  • 74.9 percent of UK consumers and 76.9 percent of U.S. consumers felt confident about "meat-free" and "meatless" labels, however, consumers felt unclear about dairy content.
  • 72.6 percent of consumers in the UK and 75.4 percent of consumers in the U.S. understood that "dairy-free" labels meant the product contains absolutely no dairy, however, consumers felt unclear about meat content.

ProVeg highlights that while consumers have a considerable understanding of plant-based and vegan foods, there's still a need for further education and clarification for products. This is especially necessary regarding the inclusion of eggs and dairy in vegetarian food versus the exclusion of those ingredients in vegan or plant-based products.

“This report offers insights into consumer knowledge around plant-based terminology in the UK and the US, with a deep dive into the way different dietary groups understand key terms,” Jaczniakowska-McGirr said. “Such research is critical to help brands effectively target the growing number of flexitarian consumers and understand the best terminology to use on their products to ensure consumers know exactly what they are purchasing.”

Futurevores and Climatarians

Plant-based terminology is increasingly important for brands facing backlash caused by the negative stigma associated with "vegan" and "vegetarian" labels. This week, director James Cameron revealed his solution to this issue during an interview with GQThe Avatar, The Way of the Water director believes that the better way to describe a plant-based diet is with the term "futurevore."

“I tried to come up with a good term for it because vegan has all those connotations,” Cameron said. “‘How many vegans does it take to screw in a light bulb?’ ‘It doesn’t matter. I’m better than you.’ You just want to punch a vegan. ‘Punch a vegan today: It’ll feel good. So the term I came up with is ‘futurevore,’” the director continued. “We’re eating the way people will eat in the future. We’re just doing it early.”

Similarly, several consumers have adopted the title of climatarian instead of vegan or vegetarian. These shoppers choose what to eat according to what is least harmful to the environment, according to the Cambridge Dictionary. Currently, about 55 percent of shoppers today consider sustainability when they grocery shop.

For more plant-based happenings, visit The Beet's News articles. 

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