4 things brands can learn from research into selling novel foods

Keri Szejda is a Senior Consumer Research Scientist at The Good Food Institute (GFI), a US non-profit that promotes plant-based alternatives and cultivated alternatives to meat, dairy and eggs. She’s been working with Mindlab to identify what affects omnivores’ decisions in the moment they buy a novel protein. 

Based on the research and her years of experience in food and science communications, here are her four tips for people looking to nail the messaging for innovative products. 

Tip 1. The most important thing is likely not what you label it

There’s a pretty big difference in what draws different people to novel proteins and why they are reducing their meat consumption. Most often it’s for health or sustainability reasons, but other cues are more important at the point of purchase. In the industry, people often talk about identifying the best descriptors for new proteins and one of the takeaways from our research is that “plant-based” and “protein” are more effective than “vegan” or “vegetarian”. But actually what most affects decision-making is that the product looks delicious, is fresh and familiar. 

Tip 2. Balance innovation with tradition 

An unexpected finding from our research was just how influential familiarity is. People want novel foods but they also want something they know. It’s a balance of the exciting anchored in the familiar. Across cultures, whether in the US, China or India, familiarity was one of the most important predictors that people would be interested in purchasing plant-based and cultivated meat. 

Certainly, plant-based proteins are increasingly common now but there are soon to be more types of proteins available, whether those are made from fungi, cultivated meat or another innovation. Best describing those will be about balancing the fact that this is a new product with the information that these technologies are already in use, for instance for making vitamins through a fermentation process.

Tip 3. Frame your message as a story

When there are so many cues distracting us constantly in our world, the more narrative your message can be, the more engaging it is and the more people are likely to notice and remember it. People don’t want information to be dumbed down but we also see that they don’t want it all at once. So it’s important for the food industry to be transparent and have understandable, science-based information available. For new foods, people need to be comfortable that they are making their own informed decisions.

Tip 4. Intuition isn’t enough

Marketing based on intuition is often wrong. Even for people who have spent years in a certain industry, they should still test out their assumptions, make sure they are accurate and identify the impact of small changes. Research can help you make sure you are making an evidence-based decision that will help you achieve your goals. 

For more on the GFI research, check out the full report here.

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