Produce marketers shouldn’t push vegan

Consumers should eat more fresh fruits and vegetables for their own health and possibly the health of the planet.

And maybe less meat.

According to trend watcher Tastewise, the No.1 and No.2 diet trend on menus right now are vegan and vegetarian, respectively. 

Should produce marketers use these trendy terms to promote fresh produce?

Probably not.

“For general consumers, even those who may be more flexitarian or choose more plant based meals for health reasons, rarely associate themselves with the lifestyle ideals of veganism or vegetarianism,” said Melinda Goodman, managing partner for FullTilt Marketing.

A recent story on NPR said taste is still king. 

“The solution, summarized in a new report from the Better Buying Lab, is this: Focus less on the meat-free or health aspects of plant-based foods — which tend to make consumers feel like they’re missing out — and more on their flavor, mouthfeel and provenance, so it’s ‘appealing to the inner food critic within all of us,’ says Daniel Vennard, head of the World Resources Institute.”

Goodman agrees with this point.

“The NPR article is correct in noting that descriptive terminology is Marketing 101,” she said. “There’s a lot of research about how the names of dishes impacts what we select on a menu. We all want something a little sexier and more interesting. It makes us feel just a little bit cooler and helps transport us to a different place or idea.”

The NPR story told of how the Panera Bread chain worked with Better Buying Lab to come up with better names for menu items. For example, consumers said they liked “vegetarian black bean soup,” but it didn’t encourage many new customers to buy it. When Panera changed its name to “Cuban black bean soup,” sales went up 13 percent.

“Vegetarian” also can turn more people off than on.

“Vegan for some individuals can invoke images of PETA members or tofurkey bacon that may not resonate with them in a positive way,” Goodman said.

Besides turning consumers off by being a nag about fresh produce being helpful, there’s no need to attack other kinds of foods.

Meat isn’t the enemy any more than pasta or rice. In fact, the other food groups can be good partners.

“As fruit and vegetable marketers we need to continue to be focused on growing fruits and vegetables that taste delicious, but more importantly providing consumers with solutions to use fruits and vegetables in unconventional ways that fit today’s lifestyle,” Goodman said.

“Think cauliflower crumbles and vegetable noodles. They didn’t ask consumers to throw away pasta or rice…they gave consumers a disruptive idea to a conventional concept that was at least equal to its carbohydrate counterpart. It was all about choice. There didn’t need to be shame placed on health or environmental sustainability – just a common sense choice that tasted good and happened to be a healthy alternative.”

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services