Gastronomy & Food Service

Menu Integration Can Nudge Consumers Toward More Sustainable Choices

With many food service businesses committing to net-zero targets, it is more important than ever to embrace sustainability on menus, normalizing the consumption of plant-based products. 

Consumers are habit-driven, meaning that there’s an inherent obstacle to them adopting new eating habits, even if the desire is there in the first place. ProVeg International’s most recent report explores how choice architecture and nudge principles can be used to increase flexitarian purchases of plant-based meals across the Global North so that your business can keep pace with modern consumer demands.

cafe restaurant
Image source: Unsplash/ Toa Heftiba

One of the simplest ways that companies can nudge consumers towards sustainable options is through menu integration. Segregating plant-based menu items suppresses mainstream sales. One study found that putting vegetarian items in separate areas or boxes on a menu can reduce ordering rates by 56%. 

  • Segregation reinforces the perception that plant-based meals are different, which mixed eaters interpret as meaning ‘not for me’. 
  • Segregation makes it harder for flexitarian consumers to make the plant-based choices they would want to because those options aren’t available in the places where they’re used to looking.  
  • Consumers often find choice overwhelming, so they tend to adopt “rapid and simple choice-elimination strategies” with menus. A segregated menu area for vegan or vegetarian meals subconsciously invites flexitarians to ignore these items, because they will often disregard an entire menu section in order to make choosing easier.
These food services have integrated their plant-based menu items and use dietary symbols and labels to signify that they are plant-based, allowing them to appeal to both mainstream and vegan consumers.

Given that, in food retail, up to 90% of plant-based alternatives are purchased by flexitarians, and that up to 55% of consumers in the Global North now identify as flexitarian, the opportunity for plant-based revenue is huge. To serve mainstream consumers’ increasing desires for animal-free products, and to meet your net-zero targets, try integrating plant-based options alongside other menu items. Putting them at the top of each section has also been shown to increase sales to mainstream consumers. “If we put delicious plant-based choices at the top of the menu, not buried somewhere, that culture shift will happen,” agrees David Mulcahy, Food Innovation and Sustainability Director at Sodexo (UK & Ireland). 

With this in mind, ensure that plant-based alternatives are integrated into your menu alongside conventional items – segregating them suppresses sales while making them notable increases flexitarian purchases. If you have items on display, make sure that the plant-based alternatives are next to the conventional versions – and are ideally the same price.

For more nudging strategies check out ProVeg’s most recent report, which explores how language, labeling, price, and chef training can all contribute to higher plant-based sales.  

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