A newly published study found consumers are more likely to opt for vegan or vegetarian menu items when they’re not labeled as vegan or vegetarian.

Rachel French, Contributing writer

August 14, 2023

3 Min Read
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At a Glance

  • The experiment drew conclusions from two, in-person groups of participants, as well as an online survey.
  • Subjects were asked to choose from items labeled as vegan or unlabeled.
  • The results showed participants were more likely to select a vegan menu option when the item wasn’t labeled as vegan.

The new study, published in Appetite, set out to uncover the impact of vegan and vegetarian labels on menu selections.

Consumers and researchers alike contend that reducing meat consumption is essential to mitigate climate change.

Understanding how labels impact menu choices, researchers of the present study wagered, is important to growing consumers’ adoption of these items without limiting their freedom of choice.

Researchers tapped a “between-subjects experimental design,” which required participants to choose between two items. The study was conducted both in person, where participants were asked to select a menu item via a registration form in two separate field studies, and online.

For the field studies, participants were presented with a registration form and asked to select a vegan or vegetarian menu option. Participants were randomized to a menu that was either unlabeled or included a label to identify the vegan option. Both the labeled and unlabeled menus included a title and description for each option.

The results showed participants were more likely to select a vegan menu option when the item wasn’t labeled as vegan. However, when it was labeled, the other option was preferred.

In field study 1, which included 53 participants, the likelihood of the participants in the unlabeled group to select the vegan option was 60.7%, compared to the labeled group (36.0%).

Field study 2, which included 103 participants and yielded similar, but more pronounced, results, showed participants in the unlabeled group were almost twice as likely to select the vegan option (63.8%), compared to the labeled group (33.9%).

Researchers dubbed the negative impact of the labels “statistically significant” in each of the field studies.

Similar to the field studies, the online study also asked participants to choose between a vegan and vegetarian option. In addition to labeling vegan products, the online study also tested vegetarian labels.

The online version also asked participants to choose between five hypothetical options: vegetarian or meat; vegan or meat; vegetarian or vegetarian; vegan or vegan; and vegan or vegetarian. Like the field study, the selection questions included a title and description for each option, where the description could be used to determine whether an option was vegetarian, vegan or included meat without a label.

Unlike the in-person field studies, participants in the online study were asked to disclose gender in order to “better test the relationship between gender and food choice and labels,” the researchers explained.

Similar to the field studies, labels had a negative impact on choices in the online study: more than one-third (36.6%) of participants in the labeled group chose the vegan or vegetarian option versus 42.7% in the unlabeled group.

Male participants, per the online study results, were much more likely to select options that contained meat versus other participants.

“Removing these labels may provide an extremely simple and low-cost means for restaurants and other institutions to reduce their environmental impact, with minimal changes to menus, and without impacting consumers’ freedom of choice,” the researchers concluded.

Rachel Adams joined Informa’s Health & Nutrition Network in 2013. Her career in the natural products industry started with a food and beverage focus before transitioning into her role as managing editor of Natural Products INSIDER, where she covered the dietary supplement industry. Adams left Informa Markets in 2019.

About the Author(s)

Rachel French

Contributing writer

Rachel French joined Informa’s Health & Nutrition Network in 2013. Her career in the natural products industry started with a food and beverage focus before transitioning into her role as managing editor of Natural Products Insider, where she covered the dietary supplement industry. French left Informa Markets in 2019, but continues to freelance for both FBI and NPI.

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