Consumer strategic insights towards more plant-based food consumption in Europe

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesisResearch

How we use the resources on earth, particularly in terms of current food consumption and production practices, is recognized as a major contributor to the global climate crisis. With the world facing challenging times for the environment and human health, a transition towards a more sustainable food system has been proposed as one of the solutions. Shifting current dietary patterns towards more sustainable food consumption practices, for example increasing plant-based food consumption and reducing consumption of animal-based foods, would be beneficial for human health and the environment. However, behavioural changes are challenging due to the complexity of food choices, which also holds for sustainable food behaviour. Even though an increasing number of studies are researching sustainable food acceptance and consumption, the current literature still shows that more knowledge is needed to fill research gaps particularly with regards to the role of sensory and non-sensory related aspects in plant-based food consumption across countries and consumer

segments. By cross-national web-based surveys, a literature review and a within-subject intervention study, the present doctoral thesis addresses various barriers and opportunities for increasing acceptance and consumption of plant-based foods in Europe.

Plant-based food alternatives designed to resemble the sensory properties of meat and dairy can be a potential solution to support consumers in shifting towards diets richer in plant-based foods. Even though the market of plant-based food alternatives showed a large growth over the past few years, the acceptance of these type of alternative proteins is generally low in Europe. One of the barriers to consuming these products is the unsatisfactory sensory quality, in particular the taste, of plantbased food alternatives. Across European countries and segments of dietary lifestyles, optimization of the sensory product quality was demanded by respondents of an international survey (n = 416– 1829) across three European regions (North, West and Central), who were identified as current consumers of plant-based food alternatives. The category plant-based cheese alternatives require major modifications in the sensory characteristics directed towards more cheese-like taste, texture and appearance, according to the respondents. Meanwhile current consumers demanded only minor sensory modifications for the category plant-based milk alternatives. This gives opportunities for manufacturers of plant-based food alternatives to improve and ensure optimal sensory product quality, which may contribute to increasing acceptance and consumption of plant-based food alternatives in European countries.

Other (non-sensory related) barriers could also hinder acceptance and consumption of more plantbased food alternatives. In a large-scale Pan-European survey (n = 7588, evenly distributed across 10 countries), it was observed that respondents who follow an omnivore diet experience larger barriers than individuals who follow a more plant-based diet (e.g. vegan, vegetarian) already.

However, some barriers were experienced regardless of the dietary lifestyle, these were in particular related to the price and availability of plant-based foods. Barriers to consume plant-based foods and product trust were found important predictors of behavioural intentions towards plant-based food alternatives, in which product trust acted as a driver. With the increase of environmental awareness in relation to food consumption practices, environmental concerns may be an important factor in increasing the behavioural intentions and subsequently influencing food choices in plant-based foods. Finally, increasing product trust and finding ways to overcome barriers to consume plantbased foods are important aspects of supporting the choice and consumption of more plant-based food alternatives. However, cross-segmental and cross-country differences should be considered when interpreting drivers and barriers as determinants of intentions to use plant-based food alternatives.

To facilitate behavioural changes towards more plant-based food choices and consumption, choice architecture could be a promising approach. With subtle changes in the choice environment, this approach could be effective in increasing sustainable food choice and consumption. In the literature review, behavioural interventions using plant-based foods or meals as default option were observed to positively (but to a moderate extend) affect plant-based food choices and consumption. Other strategies such as increasing the availability of plant-based food options or by making the plantbased foods more visible could also positively impact the choice and consumption of targeted plantbased meals or foods. However, despite being widely applied as an intervention method, food and menu labelling interventions aiming to support consumption of plant-based foods showed

inconsistent findings of the effectiveness on plant-based food choices and consumption in the literature review carried out as part of this work. In a within-subject labelling intervention study (n = 38) no significant effect was found when combining the pro-environmental and taste and texture focussed descriptors on plant-based meal choices and consumption in a self-serving setting. The effectiveness of interventions likely depend on the context (e.g. real-life, laboratory or crosssectional) in which the intervention was implemented as well as individual differences in food behaviour need to be taking into account.

In conclusion, the findings in this doctoral thesis suggest various barriers but also opportunities that exist, which could be effective in supporting acceptance and choices of plant-based foods in Europe.

With availability of plant-based foods reported as one of the main barriers to consuming more plantbased food across dietary lifestyles, this provides opportunities for choice architecture to facilitate behavioural change by increasing the availability of more plant-based food options or by making these food products the default option. Nevertheless, the sensory product quality needs to be optimized to ensure or improve overall acceptance of plant-based food alternatives. Finally, crosssegmental and cross-country differences should be taken into account when developing behavioural interventions, (sustainability) campaigns or communicating to consumers on the benefits of increased consumption of plant-based foods.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherDepartment of Food Science, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen
Number of pages220
Publication statusPublished - 2023

ID: 379975239