Plant-Based Foods Could Lure More Meat Eaters. Here's How : The Salt Vegetable-based dishes may be better for the Earth but don't always sound seductive on menus. Marketers, researchers and food chains think they know how to get meat lovers to make the swap more often.
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How To Get Meat Eaters To Eat More Plant-Based Foods? Make Their Mouths Water

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How To Get Meat Eaters To Eat More Plant-Based Foods? Make Their Mouths Water

How To Get Meat Eaters To Eat More Plant-Based Foods? Make Their Mouths Water

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/692114918/695550301" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

We know that going meat-free is good for the planet. Still, for those who like steak, eating vegan can be a tough sell. That's largely because vegan and vegetarian foods just don't sound appealing to people who like meat. Companies making plant-based food are realizing they need to woo customers with more innovative products and tantalizing descriptions. NPR's Maria Godoy has more.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: (As character, singing) Have you heard about the new health craze? Meatless burger with tofu mayonnaise.

MARIA GODOY, BYLINE: Justin Timberlake once dressed up like a piece of tofu in a "Saturday Night Live" sketch. He plays a vegan-food hawker. And he's competing for customers with a sausage vendor by singing his little heart out.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

TIMBERLAKE: (As character, singing) Veg out. No meat, c'est chic. Veg out.

GODOY: In the end, even the sausage vendor is won over. But in real life, plant-based foods can have a bad rap as being, well, boring.

DANIEL VENNARD: We're just finding that people don't create positive associations with how it's going to taste and don't feel it's very indulgent.

GODOY: That's Daniel Vennard. He's the director of the Better Buying Lab at the World Resources Institute. And it's his job to give plant-based foods a PR makeover.

VENNARD: We found that meat-free is actually one of the least effective terms...

GODOY: ...Because it makes people focus on what they're missing, not what they're getting.

VENNARD: We need to make the dishes sound and feel delicious and appetizing, so it's appealing to the inner food critic within all of us.

GODOY: For the last few years, Vennard's been working with food companies, behavioral economists and marketing experts. They've been testing whether changing the language on menus and packaging can change consumers' minds about plant-based foods. In one instance, they teamed up with Panera to see if they could boost sales of the restaurant chain's black bean soup.

SARA BURNETT: It was originally, you know, labeled as low fat. And it was called vegetarian black bean soup.

GODOY: Sara Burnett is Panera's vice president for wellness and food policy. She says the company decided to try out a couple of new names in different markets - the winner, Cuban Black Bean Soup.

BURNETT: Cuban really - in a lot of folks' minds, when they react to that, they think of a flavor profile, you know, a little bit of heat, a little bit of spice. And that makes people hungry.

GODOY: And it worked. Sales rose by 13 percent. The results were far more dramatic when the Better Buying Lab teamed up with Sainsbury's, a British supermarket chain. They took a dish called veggie sausage and mash. And they renamed it to Cumberland spice sausage and mash, which sounds like a traditional British sausage dish.

VENNARD: Which, for my fellow Brits, sounds very appealing.

GODOY: Very, very appealing - sales shot up by 76 percent.

VENNARD: The surprise for me was how much of an impact language can have on ordering behavior.

GODOY: Now, if you're thinking that using language to make food sound tastier seems pretty obvious - ding ding - you're right.

JOHN STANTON: It's marketing 101.

GODOY: That's John Stanton, a professor of food marketing at St. Joseph's University. He says, for too long, businesses that sell plant-based foods have been failing at this basic concept.

STANTON: They sold more on a lifestyle, you know? They sold to vegetarians. And it's a much bigger market of people who want to engage in delicious.

GODOY: Ultimately, its consumers who will decide if plant-based foods fit that tasty bill, which the World Resources Institute says would be better for the planet. By its calculations, if everyone on Earth swapped out 30 percent of the red meat they eat in favor of plant-based foods, it could achieve half the greenhouse gas reductions from agriculture needed by 2050. Maria Godoy, NPR News.

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