Behavioural Economics to encourage meat eaters to eat more plants?

There’s growing evidence to support the claim that reducing our consumption of meat can be better for the planet, because agriculture accounts for about a quarter of the world’s global greenhouse gas emissions.  The challenge, however, is how to encourage people to choose plant-based options over meat-based options more often? 


To explore this challenge, the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) Better Buying Lab teamed up with behavioural economists, marketing experts, and food companies in the US and the UK.  


Part of the challenge is the language used to describe plant-based food; labels such as ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’ can be off-putting to customers and lack an element of indulgence. 


In the US, the WRI partnered with Panera Bread, quick-casual dining chain to promote a ‘vegetarian black bean soup.’  While those customers who tried it liked it, the name itself didn’t arouse much attention; so, they tried calling it ‘Cuban black bean soup’ at a few select stores instead. In these stores, sales increased by 13%.  For many, the word ‘Cuban’ evokes a more flavourful image than ‘vegetarian.’ 


The team conducted a similar experiment in the UK with Sainsbury’s, a major supermarket chain, that resulted in an even larger increase in sales.  Sainsbury’s rebranded it’s ‘meat-free sausage and mash’ to ‘Cumberland-spiced veggie sausage and mash’ (a name that harkens back to traditional British sausage preparation) and sales increased by 76 percent! 


While it may seem pretty obvious that using the right language can make food sound more appealing, it’s an excellent example of the cognitive bias of Priming  (the idea that our behaviour is often influenced by unconscious cues).    


So, what should we take away from this as marketers? Well, there are many ways we can nudge our customers toward choosing our products but sometimes we need to step back and see the bigger picture.  In this example, vegetarian food makers have only focused their marketing campaigns on those wanting to avoid meat, which is a much smaller percent of the population; there are many more people who want to buy ‘delicious’ food that is healthy for them, but they just need to be convinced that these products exist.  


The bottom line is that language matters and choosing the right words to describe your product can be a powerful tool to prime your customers to choose your product!

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