Moonshot Collaborative is the world’s first consumer research firm dedicated to understanding the universe of plant-based and sustainability-minded shoppers. At the core of the business is a curated and vetted community of thousands of plant-based buyers, ranging from flexitarians who occasionally shop for plant-based foods to 100% plant-based consumers.
Founded by David Benzaquen, previously of plant-based seafood producer Ocean Hugger Foods, along with Faunalytics Board Member Che Green; Moonshot Collaborative was born last year and is currently based in the US with plans to expand into further markets.
Industry experts David and Che took time from their schedules to tell us all about this exciting new project and to discuss all things plant-based industry.
What need does Moonshot Collaborative uniquely serve?
For most plant-based companies, consumer research is cost-prohibitive and does not provide the depth of insights needed on these key consumer audiences to make effective decisions around what products to launch, what branding and messaging to use to acquire new customers, and more.
Moonshot Collaborative’s curated access to active plant-based buyers makes targeted research both accessible and economical for companies ranging from start-ups to those on the Fortune 500 list.
What has the response been so far? Given the dearth of research on plant-based brands, taste tests, consumer acceptability and understanding, and consumer price sensitivity and benefit analysis, are brands knocking at your door?
The response has been extremely positive since our launch in November 2020, and has confirmed our belief that Moonshot Collaborative is filling a long-standing hole in the market. Brands are excited both by the opportunity to target questions directly to the groups they’re trying to understand, and to be able to do so affordably. As we are still a young company, we will continue to focus on spreading awareness about Moonshot Collaborative in the coming months.
Beyond consumer surveys, what are the full services that you offer and how has the changing distribution landscape (DTC or even Covid) changed the type of research requests you are receiving?
Beyond our regular monthly consumer surveys, which aggregate questions from multiple clients to keep the costs super reasonable for anyone who wants to participate, we offer various kinds of custom research.
Examples of our custom research include longitudinal studies, virtual focus groups, home use tests, in-depth consumer interviews, and A-B testing. And, for brands that want help to interpret and apply our research findings, we offer hourly and project-based consulting. We can also dive deeper and work with brands to combine survey results with their business’s operational data to extract deeper learnings, and we offer strategic expertise to implement any necessary changes that result from the data. In addition, Moonshot Collaborative is able to provide more than just consumer research! We also provide market, category, and competitive assessments and we can analyze or interpret store-level sales scanner data to garner targeted insights.
COVID has had an accelerating effect on an already hot plant-based market, so we’re seeing even more companies launching and seeking to test their product ideas and brands. We are also seeing a shift away from foodservice, where research can be hard to extrapolate or apply, to direct-to-consumer e-commerce and retail, where more data is available. Indeed, the data we gather is particularly valuable to companies selling online, as we can help them identify their ideal consumers, so they can target their customer acquisition dollars effectively.
As we know, the consumer cares about taste, price and convenience, with a dash of health. Is this still the golden rule or are Gen Z and Millennials changing the conversation?
Those key attributes – taste, price, and convenience – are transgenerational and here to stay. But the Gen Z and Millennial groups certainly add nuance, in so far as they have come to expect more from the products they buy.
Health, as you note, is one increasingly important factor (both to these generations and others). What really separates Gen Z and Millennials from previous generations is their concern for ethical attributes, most often in the form of sustainability. This is the first time we’re seeing generational purchase motivations stem from concern for external factors – like the planet – rather than just direct benefits to the user.
That’s not to say that Gen Z and Millennials are willing to purchase sustainable products if that means foregoing taste, cost, and/or convenience, but that their purchase decisions are somewhat more complex and outward-looking than those of previous generations. For brands embracing ethical attributes, this represents a huge area of opportunity.
From your unique position, what should we know about today’s consumer?
In most ways, today’s consumer is the same as she ever was. As noted above, consumers have always and probably will always place importance on taste, cost, and convenience above most all else.
What is different about today’s consumer is her more holistic expectations of the brands and products she buys. Beyond taste, price, and availability, today’s consumer is looking for more – transparency, ethical practices, and sustainability. We believe that tomorrow’s consumer will look for even more of that well-roundedness from brands and products.
From our research, we know that younger women are the main buyers of plant-based foods. Six in ten plant-based buyers are women and more than half are millennials between the ages of 23 and 38. However, there is also strong interest in plant-based foods across most demographic groups.
While vegans and vegetarians are important customers for plant-based companies, most people buying plant-based foods also consume conventional (animal-based) meat, dairy, and eggs. Nine in ten people who purchased plant-based meat or dairy products in the past three months also consumed conventional meat and dairy products.
From your unique position, what predictions can you make regarding the plant-based market?
We are currently in a plant-based renaissance. The quality and variety of plant-based foods have increased dramatically over the last decade and, as a result, so have the affordability and accessibility of these products. This movement has two major implications: the plant-based market will continue to boom as products appeal more to the masses and become more widely available and affordable, and competition within plant-based products will grow even fiercer.
One thing we have noted is that consumers are willing to pay a slight premium for plant-based products, but that the difference in the amount many are willing to pay is not as high as the current difference in price between animal and plant-based products. For instance, we know from Moonshot Collaborative research that three in four plant-based buyers are willing to pay a premium, but only one in 25 will pay a premium of 50% or more over the cost of animal-based products.
As the market grows and companies are seeking to convert consumers who aren’t as committed to plant-based eating (and are thereby not willing to sacrifice money as easily for these products), companies have to make their prices more competitive. If they don’t, they risk missing out on these consumers, or giving away business to the new private label (store brand) products large retailers can launch at a much lower price. We’re already seeing store private label brands gaining market share in non-dairy milks and plant-based burgers.
For brands that may not have a research budget, are there any tips you can share from doing research and testing internally?
At Moonshot Collaborative, our goal is to make research accessible and affordable for even small brands working on a limited budget. But we also know that even $1,250 per question may be more than some new companies can invest in research. So how can startups go about getting much-needed insight without any budget?
There are certainly methods of conducting research at almost no cost. One example is to use your platforms – social media, email list, etc. – to ask your audience pressing questions while incentivizing respondents with something small (like free product or swag). This can yield valuable info, but it also comes with caveats as those who follow you on social media are likely fans who may not be objective. Try to get your questions in front of people who are not just your loyal followers.
If you go this route, you should also make sure that your question wording and response options are thoughtfully chosen to get the most accurate and insightful answers, and keep your audience’s bias in mind when analyzing the results (particularly on things like how forgiving they will be regarding so-so product or high prices). Feel free to check out our blog post here for some best practices on question wording.
Finally, depending on your research question, you may not need to reinvent the wheel. Check the Moonshot Collaborative resources page and other sources like GFI to see what market research and consumer insights already exist to answer your research questions. More research is published every day.
But when you’re ready to take your research to the next level and tailor it to your needs, Moonshot Collaborative is here to help.