future of protein production with plates with healthy food and protein

Brand Aid: Nudge principles to drive flexitarian purchases

April 26, 2024

In ProVeg International’s January/February 2023 column in Protein Production Technology International, we talked about using front-of-pack strategies to help your products stand out to flexitarian shoppers. That’s very useful knowledge for brands, but what if you’re a retailer?  How can we use retail environments to encourage a greater number of plant-based purchases? A simple answer is via ‘nudge principles’ – a term you may or may not already be familiar with. Let me summarize it.

Shoppers are constantly influenced by the environments in which they shop – but this isn’t a forceful or obvious influence. Instead, consumers are gently encouraged to make purchasing decisions based on what is around them. Think about this in relation to yourself. When you’re shopping, how are you swayed to buy items that weren’t on your list? The location, position, pricing, promotions, and marketing materials of and around products all contribute to the decision-making process.

By carefully understanding and organizing how these elements work together, retailers can create an environment in which shopping decisions can be influenced. This strategy is what’s known as ‘choice architecture’.

A ‘nudge principle’, then, is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without prohibiting options or significantly changing their economic incentives (Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C., 2008). To count as a nudge, consumers must be able to avoid it – putting fruit at eye-level counts, but banning junk food does not.

This takes us to ‘social proof’, a related concept explaining how humans often make decisions when we’re unsure how to behave. Essentially, it’s the idea that people look for informational cues and copy the actions of others in an attempt to emulate behavior in ambiguous situations (according to Robert Cialdini).

Consumers are habit-driven, meaning there’s an inherent obstacle to them adopting new eating habits, even if the desire is there in the first place. Nudge principles are a useful tool for retailers trying to overcome this obstacle and driving sales of their plant-based products. They can be used to encourage flexitarian customers to choose more plant-based items during their next shop.

Consumers are habit-driven, meaning there’s an inherent obstacle to them adopting new eating habits, even if the desire is there in the first place. Nudge principles are a useful tool for retailers trying to overcome this obstacle and drive sales of their plant-based products

Let’s look at the most useful nudges for flexitarians and how you can implement them in your retail setting.

Research shows that the location of plant-based products in stores and online really affects customer pick-up-and-purchase rates. So, what are the best locations and positions for plant-based products? It’s simple: next to or near their conventional counterparts on shelves and on websites.

At ProVeg, we recommend utilizing what’s known as an ‘integrated-segregated’ approach, whereby plant-based products are grouped together but positioned within animal-based-product aisles. This merchandising technique and nudge, which takes plant-based products to where the most potential shoppers are, normalizes plant-based products, demonstrates their utility, and makes it as easy as possible for consumers to find them.

Flexitarians and mixed-eaters are less likely to venture into separate plant-based aisles. By grouping plant-based products in a ‘vegan’ aisle, you group them as ‘only for vegan consumers’ and not for flexitarians and reducetarians, nudging them in the wrong way.

Pricing is another classic example of nudge behavior. By raising or lowering the price of a product, you can subtly deter or attract purchasers. Unfortunately for consumers, the pricing structure of many plant-based alternatives often involves a premium that acts as an unintended deterrent. Based on our research, many retailers and manufacturers charge a 30-40% margin on their plant-based products, compared to just 4-8% on animal-based equivalents. Why? Because, historically, the small ‘vegan’ segment of consumers has been willing to pay a high price for their values.

By reducing margins and lowering prices to match those of animal-based products, you can attract more of the flexitarian mass market. This will drive turnover and increase your overall revenue. Hurrah!

Another nudge is related to the concept of ‘exclusivity’. Highlighting that a product is close to selling out makes a product more desirable. It increases urgency around a product and nudges more people to purchase it – ‘Quick, before it’s gone!’

This links to the concept of ‘social proof’ mentioned earlier – because people are inherently influenced by others around them.

When using this nudge, make sure that your plant-based product is still visible and available. Use signage to point it out, or how else will shoppers find it? The crux is making consumers think that a product might sell-out, without ever removing that product.

You can also create urgency around a product by adding a time-limited offer. Adding a pressure component to the experience of shopping in the form of a sale will subtly push a potential customer to commit to purchasing before it increases in price.

E-commerce sites, especially, will find this nudge useful. You can easily add pop-ups on websites, which denote that a product is selling fast, without physically removing that product or reducing stock. Product counters work exceptionally well – seeing a tangible number of remaining products can push a flexitarian to jump to purchase the item before other shoppers snap it up.

For a deeper dive into key nudge principles to attract flexitarian shoppers and succeed in the plant-based market, check out the New Food Hub. And come back next time for more insights on all things flexitarian!

Gemma Tadman is ProVeg International’s B2B Communications Manager. In her role, she works to engage and support businesses in the transition to sustainable food and drink production, and accelerate the growth of the alternative protein industry. This article is republished from the April/May 2023 edition of Protein Production Technology International, the industry's leading resource for alternative proteins. To subscribe to all future editions, please click here

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch with us, please email info@futureofproteinproduction.com

About the Speaker

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Every week, you’ll receive a compilation of the latest breakthroughs from the global alternative proteins sector, covering plant-based, fermentation-derived and cultivated proteins.
By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.