The Vegan Label: A Burden or a Benefit?

The Power of Labels

In a fascinating study conducted by Alex Berke at MIT, it was discovered that labeling a menu item as “vegan” actually decreased the number of people who chose to order it. Surprisingly, when presented with the exact same dish without the “vegan” label, more people opted for it. This study raises a significant question: Does the label “vegan” carry a negative connotation that deters people from choosing plant-based options?

The Case for Default Options

This study aligns with previous research demonstrating that when food without meat is listed as the default option, a significantly higher number of people will choose it. The mere act of shifting the choice from “on request” to the standard offering can have a dramatic impact on consumer behavior. It suggests that people generally enjoy meat-free options but may be reluctant to actively select them if they are seen as separate or alternative choices.

The Power of Normalcy

The study also highlights the importance of normalcy in consumer decision-making. When Italian food was still considered novel and confined to the ethnic aisle, marketers faced the challenge of persuading people that it was acceptable to serve pasta for dinner on any given night. The specific type of pasta wasn’t as important as the idea that it was a regular, ordinary choice. This insight emphasizes the significance of positioning products as part of the mainstream rather than niche sub-categories.

The Strength of Small Communities

Instead of seeking mass appeal, another approach marketers can take is to target the smallest viable audience and build connected communities that challenge the status quo. A prime example of this can be seen in the certification symbols found on many packaged goods indicating their kosher status. While these symbols may go unnoticed by the majority, they hold great significance for certain religious or dietary groups. Encouraging a small community to notice what others overlook can lead to a shift in how larger organizations cater to the entire population.

The Pitfall of Being the Regular Kind

While organizing a few can be beneficial for driving change, it also poses a risk for established brands comfortable with their dominant market position. By focusing solely on serving everyone and not taking risks or embracing innovation, these brands lose their status as leaders in the industry. True leaders actively drive change and seize opportunities. In contrast, brands positioning themselves as the “regular kind” try to please everyone and end up pleasing no one.

The Creative Destruction of Labels

Creative destruction occurs when a shift happens; when options that were previously available only on request start being offered as standard, when eye-level shelf space changes, and when previously “unsafe” choices become acceptable for large gatherings. This disruption challenges the status quo and pushes industries to evolve.

In summary,

The study on the effect of labeling vegan menu items reveals the powerful influence of language and perception on consumer choices. Labeling a product as “vegan” carries a certain stigma that can deter individuals from selecting it, while offering meat-free options as the default choice can significantly increase their appeal. By understanding the dynamics of consumer decision-making, marketers can better navigate the complexities of brand positioning and drive meaningful change. It’s crucial to recognize the strength of small communities and the importance of embracing innovation rather than settling for being the “regular kind.” This way, brands can become true leaders and play a role in shaping the future of consumer preferences and behavior.