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.
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.
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).
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.