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The impact of plant-based, vegan, and vegetarian labels on consumer selection

Research from La Trobe University, as published in the journal Appetite, indicates a stronger inclination towards the term plant-based over vegetarian and vegan on food labels.

The research, conducted among US and German consumers, examined the impact of plant-based, vegan, and vegetarian labels on participant appraisals of how healthy, tasty, environmentally friendly, ethical, and pure a range of foods were perceived.

The study included foods that are traditionally fully animal-derived, such as cheese or sausages, and foods that may contain small amounts or no animal-sourced ingredients, such as pasta, chocolate, and cookies.

Conducted in response to the demand for studies addressing strategies to enhance the appeal of plant-based food products to broader consumer bases, this research offers insights that can assist plant-based food manufacturers in refining their product marketing approaches.

Lead researcher Dr Matthew Ruby said that both US and German participants showed a preference for foods labelled plant-based.

This preference including rating them as tastier and purer, and indicating they were more likely to buy them over the same foods labelled vegan or vegetarian.

“While our US participants also believed the plant-based foods were healthier, more ethical, and more environmentally friendly than the other labels, our German participants did not make the same connection,” said Ruby.

These result were attributed to Germany labelling: “This is perhaps because vegetarian and vegan labelling is more widespread in Germany, on both healthier whole food products and heavily processed foods,” said Ruby.

The expected flavour played a role in determining the likelihood of participants to purchase food products, yet consumers’ perceptions of the ethical and natural qualities of the foods also significantly influenced their decisions.

This was the case both for those who carefully read food labels when shopping and those who did not.

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