“Given the current growth and ambiguous nature of plant-based claims, plant-based foods are poised to follow a path paved by all-natural claims,” said Stephanie Mattucci, associate director, food science at Mintel.
“Consumers associate both all-natural and plant-based with being healthy. Yet, these claims can be problematic as they are notoriously difficult to define. A combination of ambiguity, over saturation, and lawsuits contributed to a shift away from all-natural claims, and plant-based must be careful to avoid the same. However, brands can learn from the evolution of all-natural claims to keep plant-based claims relevant to US consumers.”
Plant-based losing credibility?
Currently, many US consumers do perceive plant-based products as natural and healthy compared to a benchmark of all food and drink products, according to Mintel Purchase Intelligence data.
This finding is especially notable, said Mattucci, as only 9% of plant-based products also use the term all-natural.
“Like all-natural claims before them, plant-based claims have proliferated into a range of categories, which could threaten their credibility,” said Mattucci citing the popular Impossible Burger as one such example, which has similar levels of saturated fat, higher sodium, and less protein per serving than traditional ground beef resulting in a number of media reports questioning the true healthfulness of the plant-based meat alternative.
“This backlash could negatively impact consumers’ perception of plant-based claims, leaving them to question their value,” said Mattucci.
And while many US consumers perceive products with a plant-based claim as healthy, they do not always make it a priority to seek out those options while shopping, according to Mintel research on better-for-you eating trends, which found that just one in five (20%) US consumers (who report putting some effort into eating healthy) said that seeking out plant-based options is a priority when shopping for healthy food and drink products.
Prioritize nutrition and health credentials
So, is plant-based at risk of losing its healthy image like the all-natural claims that came before it?
Perhaps, unless plant-based brands prioritize their nutrition credentials to communicate to consumers they aren’t missing out on key nutrients by purchasing a plant-based product.
For example, according to Mintel’s 2021 US Proteins Report, one quarter of US plant-based protein consumers don’t necessarily think processed meat alternatives are healthier than real meat; however, more than half would eat more plant-based options if they had the same nutritional profile as animal-based meat.
Mattucci advised that brands should focus on promoting desirable nutrition properties in their products such as fruit/vegetable content and high protein, as nearly three in five plant-based consumers would like to see more high-protein plant-based dairy alternatives, according to Mintel research.
“Food and drink companies have a robust opportunity to appeal to the large percentage of consumers who are adding fruits, vegetables and grains into their diets. Support consumers who are looking for pro-plant diets, not necessarily vegan,” she said.
Being labeled ‘plant-based’ will not be enough
“If plant-based claims follow the same path as all-natural, simply being labeled ‘plant-based’ will not be enough in the long term. Brands will need to prove how their plant-based products and ingredients are better for people,” added Mattucci.
Mattucci added that plant-based brands need to challenge themselves to be specific by communicating the tangible health attributes their products deliver.
“Consumers already perceive food and drink products with plant-based claims to be healthy and natural, and brands that are able to deliver on those perceived benefits will have more credibility in the future,” she added.