Exploring consumer ideas about plant-based alternatives

Plants are on the menu for Dr. Rim Lassoued. Through her research on how ingredient information of plant-based products affects consumer choices, Dr. Lassoued is providing insight on the willingness of consumers to go plant-based. View Halo Profile >>

Tell us about your research.

A growing body of consumer research on the drivers and barriers towards plant-based dieting has shown that health, environment, taste, convenience, and price are among the persuaders for Canadian consumers. According to a 2019 survey by the Angus Reid Institute, Canadians are motivated to cut back on meat consumption by environmental and health concerns. However, it is unclear how information about ingredients used in plant-based products inform consumer choices and their switch to plant-based alternatives. This project will provide insight into this question.

It is unclear how information about ingredients used in plant-based products inform consumer choices and their switch to plant-based alternatives.

Can you explain that to a non-scientist?

An increasing variety of plant-based foods co-exist with their animal-based counterparts in grocery stores. A plant-based product consists of ingredients derived from plants such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds that are highly processed to mimic the look, texture, and taste of animal products. Additives and chemical compounds such as methylcellulose, soy leghemoglobin and zinc gluconate are also among the list of ingredients in plant-based foods. As processing is likely to affect the nutritive value of a product, it remains unclear whether consumers perceive plant-based alternatives as more nutritious then conventional animal products that contain meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy.

Why did you choose this area of research?

Driven by health and environmental concerns, demand for plant-based alternatives is on the rise globally, with Canada ranking among the top vegan countries. Consumers are increasingly interested in knowing the ingredients and the origin of the food they buy and consume. This is translated into a growing demand for transparency from the plant-based food sector. While plant-based food might sound more nutritious and more sustainable, highly processed plant-derived foods are likely to have a reduced nutritive value compared to animal products. Evidence shows that partial replacement of meat with plant-based foods is likely to adversely affect the intake of micronutrients like zinc and vitamin B12 among Canadian consumers. Furthermore, the effects of plant-based diets on brain health and cognitive functions are putative and remain largely untested.

To respond to the inexorably rising food demand, food production has to double, which entails the development of crops with valuable traits but also a radical change in diet by incorporating plant-based options.

How could your Grants4Ag project someday impact #healthforall #hungerfornone?

Global food security is under pressure from limited natural resources, climate change, human population growth, and exploding livestock production. To respond to the inexorably rising food demand, food production has to double, which entails the development of crops with valuable traits but also a radical change in diet by incorporating plant-based options. The project would inform about consumer willingness to switch to plant-based diets. This information would be critical for decision-makers in the food industry to secure productivity and product quality.