Getting emotional about plant-based


I was reading Kerry’s recent “Stepping up Taste in Plant Based” reports which they compiled along with MMR and Vitamin T (see Kerry’s full report). They are excellent giving some great insights into the subtleties of getting Taste and Texture right for plant-based alternatives in burgers and cheese and even giving some great market specific insights for the Australia, Brazil, UK and USA markets.

However, it strikes me that these are yet another – very valuable – contribution into telling us what these plant-based alternatives should look, feel, taste, and even cook like. Plant based alternatives are getting better at a dizzying rate at the moment, not so much imitating meat-based products but bettering them and offering real alternatives for vegans, vegetarians and – perhaps more importantly in terms of volumes – flexitarians.

But as this market expands, with ever increasing variety and choice, as consumers are confronted with a bewildering number of options that satisfy their plant-based preferences, how will they make their choices? What is it that will drive preference in this market, and which manufactures and brands will rise to prominence?

All the recommendations in the Kerry reports are practical, rational product improvements that will undoubtedly lead to better plant-based products. But consumer preference is not rational, it is emotional.

When consumers say that they “like” or “prefer” a product or brand they have not made a quantified rational analysis of its appearance, taste, texture, aroma etc. Their liking is an emotional response to their experience of the product. It is a System 1 response to their consumption experience that they will then back up – support – with a post-rationalised, apparently more considered, justification – a System 2 response. But note that the more rational explanation comes after the preference decision has been made. It is a justification of that decision, not a rational process by which they arrived at their preference.

Creating great plant-based products is important as this market grows, but the winners will be those that can identify the emotional drivers that create preference for consumers and can incorporate these into their product and communication design.

These emotional drivers will not necessarily be the logical features that consumers talk about when asked about their preferences. They will be small cues in appearance, flavour, texture and in the communication that trigger unconscious responses in the consumer.

The winners will not necessarily be the quantifiably best products to be produced, they will be the products that trigger the best emotional responses in consumers.

Documents such as the Kerry reports will help manufactures produce rationally better plant-based products. But the brands that emerge as the most successful in this market will be those that have really understood the emotional drivers of their consumers and have successfully incorporated features into their product and communication designs that trigger the best emotional responses.

I recommend that you read the Kerry reports they will probably help you to produce better plant-based products, but if you want to win in the plant-based categories speak to a Consumer Psychologist to discover how to incorporate the necessary emotional cues into your product and communication design.

Chris Lukehurst is a Consumer Psychologist and a Director at The Marketing Clinic.

Understanding the connections between the consumer experience and their emotional responses.