Author: Durk Bosma

The Plant-Based Revolution: How can we predict which animal products will be replaced by plant-based options?

The Plant-Based Revolution

How can we predict which animal products will be replaced by plant-based options?

The switch from animal products to plant-based products is not a recent phenomenon. Who remembers the blocks of deep-frying fat you used to put in your frying pan? When you had finished frying, you could let the fat solidify with peanuts and feed it to the birds in winter. Fortunately, deep-frying in vegetable fat has been the norm for a long time now. 

It would be nice to know which buttons to push to speed up the plant-based revolution. The good news is that those “buttons” are already largely known from consumer research and behavioral theories. Here, we list a few.

You can see how each category is doing in all of these areas by asking consumers. When looking at consumers responses, you can make a prediction as to what proportion of animal products will be replaced by plant-based products in the future. And you will know in which areas you as a producer must do better.

Consumer’s motivation

An important button is the motivation to switch to plant-based. Do consumers want to change? Three aspects play a role here: animal welfare, climate considerations and health. Motivation is influenced by what kind of information consumers are exposed to. A documentary about animal suffering in a slaughterhouse increases motivation to adopt plant-based alternatives. But so does media attention concerning the health benefits of plant-based diets. However, this depends on whether these media actually reach the sceptics. 

Credibility of the products

Then there is the quality of the plant-based alternative. Is the plant-based version better, equal or inferior to the animal-based one? The tricky thing is that before someone has tried a plant-based version, the quality is only an expectation. Credibility is therefore essential. Do consumers believe that the product is good (enough)? Also, credibility is higher for some categories than others. For example, it is easier to imagine that you can make a tasty plant-based burger than mature Gouda cheese. 

Although the quality of plant-based alternatives has risen sharply in many categories, (negative) expectations are still often confirmed. People do not find the plant-based alternative as good as the animal-based one. And once a consumer has had a disappointing experience, it is difficult to persuade him or her to try again.

Composition of the product

In what respects should a plant-based product be equal to or better? The taste and texture, of course. But the composition is becoming increasingly important. To what extent has the product been processed? Which (unknown) ingredients are used? Where do those ingredients come from? And how do the ingredients affect my health? These are (relevant) questions that consumers have. And suppliers must be able to answer them clearly. 

Convenience

People want convenience. Therefore, how easy it is to switch to a plant-based alternative is an important factor. Is there an acceptable plant-based alternative available at the store? Increased availability can greatly accelerate the plant-based revolution. But the product itself should also be easier to incorporate into meals. Think of plant-based ‘eggs’ in a carton.

Necessity of the substitute

The necessity of the category is important to take into account when determining the potential of plant-based alternatives. Do you actually need to replace the animal product, or can you do without it just fine? Milk, for example, is a product that many people can do without. 

Price- quality ratio

Price is obviously an important factor. Suppose that quality is perceived as being good enough. In that case, the consumer will pay a premium price for the plant-based product. But what if the plant-based alternative is cheaper? Then you can attract a segment of price-sensitive consumers. For the time being, the only category where this is the case seems to be margarine (plant-based butter). 

Social norm

The last factor of importance is the social norm. People like to copy the behaviour of those around them. So it is crucial to know what others are doing. And you can play with this by indicating what the norm is. We all know the signs in hotels that say ‘80% of guests use their towel more than once. 

Game changers are products that strike the right chord with consumers in almost all of these areas. A healthier, tastier, easier, and cheaper product turns the category on its head. As it happened with deep-frying fat. And that made everyone happy, except perhaps the birds.  

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How can we increase trust in the food chain?

How can we increase trust in the food chain? 

Client:

Brief:

To uncover the themes that play a role in influencing consumers to eat more healthily, more sustainably, and to be more open towards food innovation. The insights, in conjunction with findings from the TrustTracker® project, are used to plan future dialogue and engagement with the EIT Food community.  

Our approach:

Future of Food Institute and EIT Food have a mission in common: empower the consumer to be actively involved in improving the food chain. 

Together with 178 participants, from 13 European countries, we co-created 12 key themes that play a role in influencing consumers to eat more healthily, more sustainably, and to be more open towards food innovation.

Data for this study was collected in an online community, in which European citizens took part in a total of 40 (mini-)assignments. Over three periods of 5-10 days, the community members took part in open discussions, photo assignments, short questionnaires, and polls.

Findings in a nutshell:

The ‘secret’ formula

Together with the participants  we co-created 12 strategies that can play a role in influencing consumers to eat more healthily, more sustainably, and to be more open towards food innovation. The aim of these strategies is to help (re)build trust in the food system, as well as spark ideas for innovation.

These twelve strategies come together in a simple formula:

Trust = (Transparency & Control + Simplicity) x Love

For each element of the formula we developed a number of strategies that actors in the food chain can follow in order to build trust, including best practices and examples of organisations already applying these strategies. 

Transparency & Control

Currently, consumers lack the means to exert control over the food chain. They need to rely on the food chain actors themselves and authorities to check. This theme is about making the food chain transparent, so that everyone can see what is happening.

Associated strategies:

  • Radical transparency
  • Full clarity
  • Power of community
  • Sensible logos
Simplicity

One reason for lack of trust is that, for a lot of different kinds of food, it’s simply too difficult to understand how it’s produced and where it’s from. This theme is about increasing simplicity to make it easier to know what good food is.

Associated strategies:

  • Simplicity
  • Short supply chains & hyperlocalism
  • Tangible sustainability
Building love

If you love a person, you are willing to invest time into getting to know that person. It’s the same with food. And we don’t mean the shallow cravings one can have for a certain food at a certain moment, but a deep and genuine affection for (a certain) food.

Associated strategies:

  • Education
  • Curiosity
  • Trial made easy
  • Modern nostalgia
  • Influencers

The aim of these themes is to help (re)build trust in the food system, as well as spark ideas for innovation.

The full report contains many insights about actors in the food chain and the preconditions for changing consumer behavior. 

Download a snapshot of the report here:

[cloud-download]

Would you like to access the full report? 
Get in touch!

  • Online Community

  • Strategy & Positioning

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Future of Food institute. Who are they? Interview Marketing Tribune

Future of Food Institute. Who are they?

August 17, 2020 – Interview by Peter van Woensel Kooy, senior editor, branding-expert MarketingTribune.

Link to the original Dutch article

What opportunities and threats do you see for food brands?

A paradigm shift is taking place in the food chain. Sustainability is a competitive advantage (or a disadvantage for the brands that don’t move along). New food technology companies are entering markets with new products and new earning models. Previously unthinkable products and services are successfully finding their way to the market. Think of products based on insects and brands that deliver directly to the consumer. But also consumers who have started to produce their own food with the help of a cooperative. Technological progress offers many opportunities for sustainability in the food chain, but also facilitates new connections between the links in the food chain. This, combined with increasing sustainability awareness, makes the food world one of the most interesting fields of activity for marketeers at the moment.

In the coming years, the world population will increase and will have more money to spend. Globally, the market for food is growing by around 5% per year. A huge opportunity for food brands, but only brands that combine sustainability with consumer preference will grow’.

Do you think there is a need for change?

Yes. The food chain is widely seen as one of the causes of the climate crisis. Food security is under threat, because we simply don’t produce enough food to feed 10 billion mouths. In addition, our current food system is linked to common diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and various types of cancer. The good news is that at the same time our food is part of the solution. A lot is already happening in the field of sustainability.

The European Union is coming up with the ‘Farm to Fork’ program, a comprehensive reform plan for agriculture and the food system. Nutrition is also high on the agenda at the UN. 10 of the 17 SDG’s (sustainable development goals) relate directly or indirectly to sustainable consumption and production of food.

What is the big idea behind the Future of Food Institute, founded in 2018?

Ultimately, it is the consumer who decides what is successful. It is only when more sustainable food is on his plate that impact is achieved. Knowing how to seduce and support consumers in making more sustainable choices is therefore more important than ever. Because successful brands combine being good for the planet with gaining consumer preference.

Our mission is to help accelerate the transition to a more sustainable food system, with the consumer as the driving force. We do this by providing knowledge and insight into the consumer. What are the drivers? What is stopping them? For example, we know from large-scale research that it is very difficult to get people to adjust their behaviour based on abstract motivations, which is ‘a better climate’ for many at the moment. But we also know that there is a substantial group of consumers who are quite willing to consume more sustainably, but most of all want to benefit themselves immediately. Those people buy vegan products because it’s hip and trendy. There is also a large group that wants to consume more sustainably, but doesn’t know how. For this group it is important to take them by the hand, for example by informing them about what exactly sustainable choices are.

Good question: how do you define sustainable food? 

Sustainability has many sides. For example, something can be sustainable from one point of view, but not from another. Think of Tony’s Chocolonely. They have profiled themselves as the brand that makes the chocolate world sustainable by offering fair prices to the producers. But you can ask yourself whether the product chocolate itself is so sustainable. It comes from far away and it contains a lot of sugar.

Sustainability mainly has to do with the use of scarce resources. In particular, it is about no longer depleting the soil and increasing diversity. But it also has a socio-economic component and health is an important one. The tricky thing is that experts do not always agree on what exactly is sustainable. And most consumers have only a limited idea of what is sustainable.

According to FoFI, what is the impact of the corona crisis on sustainable consumption?

Covid-19 has increased sustainability awareness by exposing the vulnerability of our food system. It has led to an increasing demand for healthy food and the need for a more resilient food system. We see all kinds of initiatives emerging on a local scale. Think of local producers working together to set up a meal box. Farmers who open a drive-in greengrocer’s. The crisis is fueling inventiveness in people.
However, looking at consumer behaviour as a whole, we see little impact. People have started to eat something healthier. Just because there was more time and attention available to prepare the food. For the individual consumer, sustainability is hardly higher on the agenda’.

How do you help food brands?

With the insights we offer, we help food companies develop the right products, for the right consumers, with the right message. Encouraging consumers to make sustainable choices is not the same as influencing buying behaviour with traditional marketing tools. It requires specialist knowledge and deeper insights. There is a big difference between what people say and what people do in the supermarket. In many categories we see the whole market dynamic changing.

We help brands to understand these dynamics and to discover the new rules of the game. For example, we now know that the consumer’s perception of what is sustainable does not match what experts know to be effective. Consumers underestimate the impact of meat consumption and overestimate the impact of packaging. If you know this in your category, you know how to tell a sustainable message and how to turn sustainability into brand preference.

One area we pay a lot of attention to is nudging, i.e. unconsciously influencing buying behaviour. If you can promote sustainable choices with the help of subtle interventions in the food environment, that’s great of course. Together with the National Fruit and Vegetable Action Plan, we are researching all kinds of nudges in different environments. What works and what doesn’t? And what does a restaurant visitor actually think about trying to influence their behaviour? By mapping the effects on both sales and visitor experience, we learn a lot. Knowledge that food marketers can use to stimulate sustainable choice within their own target group.

What are your further plans?

Very simple: make impact. If we deliver useful insights, brands can make sustainability more successful, for example by hitting the right chord in an advertising campaign. Or because they bring product innovations to the market that are picked up by consumers more quickly. And given market demand, we expect to grow rapidly. And growth goes hand in hand with making an impact. The more successful we are, the more impact we can make.

A large-scale consumer survey in 7 European countries is planned for the autumn. Last year we did this survey only in the Netherlands, but we’re getting more and more questions about the state of affairs in other countries. How far is the consumer? What can marketers learn from this? What are best practices? With the help of sponsors, we can make the research available free of charge to anyone in the food sector who wants to make it more sustainable.

In addition, we can offer all kinds of regular market research that other agencies also do. Think of innovation research, communication research, etc. We can answer any ad hoc research question in the field of sustainability. Where we are different from other agencies, our drive for sustainability is an absolute specialization in that area. This gives us a lot of specialist knowledge about the sustainable consumer.

Finally, we are building a research community. A group of consumers that we can regard as front runners. By doing research among these front runners, we know what works and what doesn’t work. Moreover, they can keep us informed of what is going on.

  • Quantitative Research

  • Strategy & Positioning

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Increasing demand for organic food

How can we boost demand for organic foods?

Client:

Bionext, Dutch Organic Trade Organisation

Brief:

Gain insight on how Dutch consumers perceive organic foods and find an intervention that will effectively stimulate the sale of organic foods. The insights were used in a press-release to kick-off the Biokennisweek (Organics knowledge week) 2022.

Our approach:

We designed a questionnaire which among other things included a mini communication experiment: participants were shown three different messages about organic food production. They were then asked about their attitudes and willingness to pay a 10% or 20% mark-up for organic versus ‘regular’ foods. We also shared our pre-existing knowledge about perception of organic food from the Food Forum, our conscious consumer community.

Findings in a nutshell:

Consumers are willing to pay more for organic food, if they understand why organic food is more expensive. Consumers who learned that organic agriculture is more expensive for farmers to maintain, for example due to labour intensiveness as well as more living space for animals, were more likely to view organic products positively than the control condition (75% vs 52%) and pay the 10% mark-up (45% vs 35%).

Picked up by media:

  • Quantitative Research

  • Strategy & Positioning

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Online Nudging Leads to 7% Higher Sales of Fruit and Vegetables

With the Ga Voor Kleur Lab (Choose Colour Lab),  the Dutch NAGF (National Fruit and Vegetable Action Plan) has investigated how buying fruit and vegetables can be stimulated using nudging: little pushes in the right direction to change behaviour. Does nudging work for online shoppers? The answer is yes. With an increase of 7% in vegetable and 6% in fruit purchases, this second Ga Voor Kleur Lab with Hoogvliet Supermarket has shown that nudging in an online environment can be very effective!

The online Ga Voor Kleur Lab

During 6 weeks in May and June 2021, visitors of the Hoogvliet website or app were randomly assigned to an intervention group (who were shown the nudges) and a control group. A number of different nudges were applied, including add to card suggestions and  plant-based recipes. Future of Food Institute analysed more than 10.000 purchases consisting of hundreds of thousands of products to understand the effects of the nudges that were applied.

What were the results?

The results of the study were very positive:

  • the nudging group bought 7% more vegetables and 6% more fruit. Both in volume and units.
  • the number of varieties of vegetables bought increased by 7%.
  • the total number of customers buying fruit and vegetables was only slightly higher in the nudging group for fruit, by 3%.

Though the design of the study doesn’t allow for in depth analysis of the effects of most individual nudges. However one nudge that positively stands out is the addition of add-to-cart suggestions. This was especially the case for really relevant combinations, such as iceberg lettuce with shawarma bread or kiwi with yoghurt.

Measuring customer experience

Finally, a small fraction of online customers were surveyed to measure perception of the nudges and the effects on the customer experience. This showed that 15% of respondents were aware of the extra attention paid to vegetables and fruit. The vast majority thought it was a good thing and only a small minority thought it was annoying (8%). In particular, normative nudges such as the ‘fruit and vegetable meter’ were found to cause irritation in a small number of cases. This shows that the more subtle the nudge, the less likely it is to cause resistance. It also stresses the necessity to keep track of the user experience and make sure it doesn’t suffer from nudges that are too conspicuous.

Read more here (in Dutch).

Download the full report here (in English).

Download the short report here (in English).

 

 

What is Sustainable Food? – our definition

For a number of years now we have been dedicating our time to researching sustainable consumption behavior. Though we were always fully aware that sustainability is a complex and multi-dimensional issue no one ever asked us the question what we consider to be sustainable food. Until recently. It’s not an easy question to answer. And if even experts can’t answer this question, how can consumers?

That’s why we gave it some thought. The word sustainable means that a process or state can be maintained at a certain level for as long as wanted. When it comes to the production and consumption of food, we need to consider that we have 10 billion mouths to feed in the near future. A sustainable worldwide food system should be able to feed all these mouths.

This is our definition of sustainable food:

Food that contributes to the well being of humans. Now and in the future. 

Still, we were not satisfied with this definition. It’s too broad and not tangible enough. So let’s take closer look. What needs need to be done in order to contribute to the well being of humanity? There are 3 areas to consider: food must by healthy, socially inclusive and ecologically viable.  We’ll look at these areas in detail.

Sustainable food is healthy
What is considered to be healthy changes over time and even nutritionists do not agree. But obviously, any diet should contain all the nutritional values a human being needs. In general, plant based food with limited processing and additives is considered healthy. And not too much of the stuff we shouldn’t have too much of, like sugar, salt and fat. Most consumers in western society have a choice. Everyday they choose what they eat and what not. Therefore we believe that the environment in which food choices are made (supermarkets, but also many out of home places) should support healthy choices.

But there is an important friction here. Unhealthy food is often cheap food. And the environment in which food is sold often does not support healthy choices. So right in the end of the food chain, work needs to be done so that consumers are more prone to choose what is best for them.

Sustainable food is socially inclusive
This element of sustainability focuses on making sure no one is left out, throughout the supply chain. It means that everybody involved in the production, transport and sales of food, gets paid fairly. But it’s more than just financial circumstances. It means workers work in safe conditions and have job security. It means entrepreneurs get treated fairly by their clients and suppliers.

But there is also a friction here. Throughout history much focus has been on another element of social inclusiveness, namely affordability. Socially inclusive also means that consumers can actually buy the food. And the more attention is given to fair pay in the food chain, the higher the price the consumer pays in the end. It means that social inclusiveness often goes at the expense of affordability. Short and transparent supply chains could be part of the solution.

Sustainable food is ecologically viable
This element is all about not depleting our  natural resources. In the last century scientist have managed to spectacularly increase the yield of agriculture. This was needed to feed the growing population. But this increase in yield in the short term came at a cost in the long term. Our agricultural land is without doubt our most important asset when it comes to the future of food supplies. But in many places our soil is deteriorating. Due to too intensive agriculture in combination with the use of chemicals, a third of the soil has now been exhausted, according to the United Nations.

Another important threat is the transformation of nature into agricultural area. We all know the picture of the burning Amazon rain forest and homeless orangutans in Indonesia.

Better ways of farming offer a solution. Organic farming is one of these ways, but there are more, often focusing on increasing biodiversity. Think of food forests.

How to use our definition
Because there are so many aspects to it, it is difficult to ascertain whether or not something is sustainable. A certain type of food can be sustainable in one way but absolutely not in another. Let’s look at the Dutch chocolate brand Tony’s Chocolonely. This brand has dedicated itself to making the production of chocolate slave free, focusing on fair payment for the people who produce the raw chocolate. Very sustainable from a social point of view. But the product itself is not very healthy because of the high sugar content.

And what about organic food? Most experts agree that organically produced food is better in many ways for the world. But as long as it’s more expensive and not available to the masses, organic food is not socially inclusive.

Sustainability is not black or white. Food is not sustainable or not. Instead, sustainability is a sliding scale. Food is more or less sustainable. Our definition can be used as a roadmap indicating directions for improving sustainability.

In order to optimize sustainability, there are several routes. Though it may seem complicated, this is where it gets easy. There are only 5 routes, which can be easily combined.

  • Increase plant-based share of diet. Plant-based food is healthier and takes a smaller area to produce.
  • Limit waste. If we throw away less of what we produce, we have to produce less. Production will be more efficient and cheaper.
  • Local and short supply chains will limit transport miles and charges for middle men. Shorter supply chains will increase resilience and transparency.
  • Eat seasonal produce.
  • Limit one time packaging.

​This article is far from complete . Sustainability is more complex than we can describe in a few words. Every solution has pros and cons. A lot of debate is going on about what are the best solutions. We support any kind of open debate because it brings us closer to solving the complex problems that our food chain faces. Our contribution to the debate is right at the end of the food chain. How to seduce and support the consumers to make sustainable choices? This is where Future of Food Institute helps by offering crystal clear consumer insights.


We help sustainable food companies to innovate faster and communicate with more impact. We do this by offering accessible and crystal clear consumer insights

We love working with mission-driven food companies and non-profits that have a positive impact on society and our planet. Together we empower consumers to make food choices that are good for them as well as for the planet.

The Hague Tech - Wilhelmina van Pruisenweg 35 - 2595AN - Den Haags - 
(+31) (0)70 2042314 - Info@futureoffood.institute

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