Studies & Numbers

Study: Using More Attractive Names for Plant-Based Dishes Significantly Increases Orders

A new study, conducted by the University of Queensland and published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, has found that giving plant-based dishes more attractive names on restaurant menus could boost sales.

According to the research, using adjectives to describe the flavor, texture, and provenance of plant-based meals increases their appeal. For example, descriptions such as “juicy American burger” and “tasty Italian vegetable lasagna” are more appealing than “vegan burger” or “vegetable lasagna”. This effect can be amplified by using blander names for meat-based options.

Affordable intervention

The study notes that most restaurants currently take the opposite approach, with plant-based dishes named in ways that portray them as healthy but bland and meat-based dishes made to sound tastier. This leads to a lack of interest in plant-based meals, as most people want to indulge when eating out and tend not to choose healthy-sounding options. Furthermore, terms such as “vegan”, “vegetarian”, and “meat-free” are off-putting to meat-eaters, who feel that these dishes are not intended for them.

Language changes have previously been used with success in public health campaigns for issues such as smoking cessation and vaccination. Using this strategy to promote plant-based dishes provides a simple, affordable intervention that does not reduce the number of meat-based options available, avoiding complaints from meat-eaters.

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“Meaningful contribution”

However, while the name changes encouraged more meat-eaters in the study to choose plant-based options, this only applied to specific subgroups — namely, meat-eaters who are environmentally and health-oriented. Around 25% of Australians fall into this category, and among this group, the ordering of plant-based meals increased by around 7%. While this is a relatively small percentage, the potential environmental benefits are huge — choosing a vegetarian meal over a beef-based one saves around 17 kg of CO2e per meal.

On the other hand, uncompromising meat-eaters were no more likely to choose plant-based options after the dishes were renamed. Consequently, the researchers note that this strategy alone is not enough, and suggest other potential changes such as using appealing imagery of plant-based meals and less attractive images of meat-based options.

Previous research has also noted the importance of using sensory language to describe plant-based options, along with avoiding terms such as “vegan” and “vegetarian”.

“We conclude that using appealing names for plant-based dishes on restaurant menus may represent a cost-effective way to entice specific market segments of consumers to choose plant-based rather than meat-based dishes when dining. With food contributing nearly 25% to global emissions, changing meal choices for even the smallest of market segments can make a meaningful contribution to climate change mitigation,” say the study authors.

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