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Plant-based versus vegan: A consumer perspective

Vegans and mainstream consumers are fueling the growth of plant-based alternatives, which has implications for brands looking to capture more market share.

With the recent explosion in plant-based food offerings, coupled with a modern sensibility that healthy, whole foods from the Earth (especially fruits and vegetables) are good for you, more Americans are actively seeking to add more plants to their diet without eliminating animal products completely.

While vegan is niche, with only 4% of consumers reportedly following a vegan lifestyle, 16% report choosing plant-based options is important to their households, according to proprietary data gathered from January through March 2019 via the Linkage Research & Consulting’s monthly natural products tracking study, the Free From Market Monitor.  The vegan lifestyle is more popular among younger people, with 60% of vegan consumers under the age of 40.

There are two distinct motivations for choosing to be vegan: a desire to overcome or manage a specific health condition or a strong belief in the ethical treatment of animals and the planet. Those choosing to be vegan for health reasons are more likely to be men (57%), while both genders are motivated by ethical reasons. African American and Hispanic consumers over index on veganism, accounting for nearly 50% of the vegan population, and are doing this primarily to support their health. Vegan consumers educate themselves on health and know the short- and long-term benefits of adopting a vegan diet.

In contrast, households where choosing plant-based is an important factor in food decisions span all generations. Adults 55 years and older, who have the lowest adoption of a vegan lifestyle, have the greatest propensity to say plant-based is an important criterion. Plant-based consumers skew slightly female (54%), and here again we see an over index among African American, Hispanic, and Asian populations, which account for nearly 40% of households where plant-based is important.

The main motivation for adopting a plant-based diet are health related, driven by allergy/sensitivity to foods; weight loss or maintenance; a desire to control blood pressure; and the overall belief that plant-based diets are better for your health in general.

As manufacturers look to enter and evolve their offerings in this space, insights from this data provide the following implications for brands:

  • Both vegans and mainstream consumers are fueling the growth of plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy. To maximize sales among these consumers, brands should look to optimize the appeal of products through plant-based claims and appealing taste profiles, while providing reassurance to the ethical vegan consumer that the product is vegan through certification and claims.
  • With health and allergy/sensitivity being a top motivator for vegans and plant-based consumers, brands should look to promote the health benefits of the plant-based alternative and provide reassurance of what allergens their products are free from.
  • With the expanding appeal of plant-based eating and the general belief it is better for your health, vegan brands have an opportunity to attract more consumers through appealing packaging and products and expanded distribution to capture more of the growing plant-based market.

Editor's Note: This article will run in its entirety in INSIDER's "Plant-Based Revolution" digital magazine, available online November 5. 2019.

Learn more about consumer perspective of plant-based versus vegan from Michele DeKinder-Smith, during the “How to Win in the Booming Plant-based Nutrition Sector” session on Wednesday, Oct. 16 at 9 a.m., at SupplySide West in Las Vegas. This session is underwritten by Ingredion and Top Health Ingredients.

Michele DeKinder-Smith, president and founder of Linkage Research & Consulting, has more than 20 years’ experience delivering consumer insights for leading and emerging brands. She founded Linkage to deliver world-class insights that help brands grow through appreciation of the customer’s point of view.

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