New Research Claims Displaying Environmental Messages Ahead Of Food Ordering Can Encourage Plant-Based Eating

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A study conducted by the World Resources Institute (‘WRI’) demonstrated a positive correlation between environmental messaging and sustainable food choices. The ultimate goal was to provide restaurants with guidance for conveying messages that would promote plant-based dishes over meat. Through a rigorous selection process, a number of environmental messages were devised to be displayed before a hypothetical menu, to see if study participants would be subconsciously swayed to make plant-based selections. The best performing messages were then used in a second trial to confirm efficiency.

Testing was conducted in the form of online surveys. All 6,374 participants were from the U.S., with no dietary restrictions and with no pre-existing preferences. Ages ranged from 20 upwards and a variety of demographics were represented. There was an equal gender split between male and female. Surveys were randomised with participants receiving one of the chosen environmental messages, or none (as a control).

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What the numbers revealed

The main takeaway of the study was that a thoughtfully constructed message about environmental food choices can promote plant-based ordering. As a way to nudge diners to consume less meat, clear messaging, as opposed to images, has the potential to be effective. 

Of five written messages displayed to participants, the WRI notes that four performed better than the no message control. The two best-performing messages doubled the percentage of plant-based food selections. “Adding descriptive messages communicating the diverse benefits of plant-based food choices is a flexible and low-cost intervention that requires minimal time investment and is therefore a scalable approach to behavior change,” the report concluded.

Authors of the study, Stacy Blondin, Sophie Attwood, Daniel Vennard and Vanessa Mayneris acknowledge that wider testing would need to be done to confirm positive findings. They cite factors such as real world settings, where meals selected are to be consumed and paid for, influencing decision-making. A variety of contexts would also need to be explored, including restaurant dining and supermarket shopping. A note about replicating the study in other high meat consumption countries was made.

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Tentative conclusions

Across the board, presenting consumers with environmental messages while making food selections has been shown to nudge people towards plant-based options. The research team claims that all messages used in both trials could easily be adapted for widespread use across different sectors. The study has been hailed as offering insight and potential future methodologies to food providers who are looking to break through the traditional meat-centric discourse.

Spreading the message

Highlighting personal accountability in connection to consumption is an idea being investigated in other parts of the world. Most recently, it was reported that Norwegian grocery chain Oda had started printing carbon footprints on customer receipts. The bold move has been hailed as a success in terms of reducing the amount of red meat being ordered by shoppers. Carbon-heavy items of all kinds have been identified as experiencing a lull since the practice came in. Compared to other Norwegian grocery stores, Oda revealed that its customers buy 50 percent more fresh produce. An 80 percent increase in plant-based meats has been witnessed alongside. Both trends have been identified after the receipt initiative was put in place.


Lead photo by cottonbro from Pexels.

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