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Although many people want to eat more plant-based food, some consumer segments are less keen. How can we convince them as well?

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Wenche Aale Hægermark  

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“We have gained more insight into which consumer groups seem the most receptive to increasing their intake of legumes and other plant-based foods, which is useful knowledge for the development of new products in this category,” says Øydis Ueland.

Consumers grouped by attitudes

Øydis and her colleague Antje Gonera have supervised Malin Hatlebakk for her master’s thesis work on consumer attitudes to plant-based food, meat consumption, animal welfare and sustainability. The data has been sourced from a quantitative consumer survey which forms the basis of the SIFO report Meat free eating habits – what do consumers think?

Malin identified seven distinct consumer segments based on how consumers eat, shop and think about food. There were clear correlations between these segments and demographic variables such as gender, age and place of residence. The segments are also compared to Norwegian consumer types, or personas, which present values and attitudes in future consumer groups.

“There are clear similarities between some of our personas and the consumer segments. The fact that they complement each other can be used to gain a better understanding of customer groups and introduce targeted and more accurate approaches for each segment”, says Antje. She leads the consumer and innovation research in the FoodProFuture project, where the personas and the SIFO report have been developed.

Do people put their money where their mouth is?

The participants’ diets were analysed, and the data was used to calculate the carbon footprint of the various consumer groups in collaboration with NORSUS. The results show that there is not always a correlation between a person’s environmental awareness and the level of the greenhouse gas emissions from their diet.

For example, the group named The Conservatives are not particularly concerned about the climate. Nevertheless, their meals are associated with lower than average greenhouse gas emissions. The opposite is the case for the so-called Open-Minded, who show significant environmental awareness, yet also have average greenhouse gas emissions from their diets.

Who wants to eat a more plant-based diet?

One barrier to adopting a more plant-based diet is scepticism about whether one is getting enough protein. Although legumes can solve this problem, it is only among the Flexitarians and the Open-Minded that peas, beans, and lentils are a natural part of the diet.

The Flexitarians are the only ones who have a positive attitude towards plant-based ready-to-eat meals. Having this group further increase their consumption of plant-based food will not have much impact – they mainly eat this way already.

The Carnivores segment would have the greatest health benefits if they turned to a more plant-based diet, but they are also the most difficult to convince. They are not interested in reducing their meat intake, eating legumes, or trying new dishes; they prefer a traditional diet.

“The Processed food eaters are more likely to change. They don’t currently eat much plant-based food but are interested in increasing their intake. They already eat a lot of processed food and are
used to these types of meals. The main hurdle for bringing this group on board is probably price. Their income is lower than average, and ready-to-eat vegetarian dishes are often more expensive than other options”, says Øydis.

Antje says they are also optimistic about the Open-Minded. ”This group is motivated to have a more plant-based diet. Their attitudes are similar to that of the Flexitarians, but their actual diet is completely different. They prefer to cook from scratch and are sceptical towards processed food, which is a barrier for choosing plant-based ready-to-eat dishes. At the same time, they find it difficult to prepare healthy, protein-rich and tasty dinners only from plant-based raw materials.”

Hatlebakk’s master thesis is linked to FoodProFuture and the strategic programmes InnoFood and FoodSMaC.

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