How menu design can encourage greater uptake of plant-based: study

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

GettyImages/Raphye Alexius
GettyImages/Raphye Alexius

Related tags plant-based

Fresh research out of the UK suggests meat eaters are much more likely to choose vegetarian meals when they make up the majority of the menu.

The agri-food chain contributes one-quarter of total greenhouse gas emissions, with meat and dairy significant polluters within the sector.

Incremental changes to our diet, such as reducing meat consumption in favour of more plant-centred options, can have a big impact on carbon emissions when adopted at scale.

While UK foodservice has come a long way in its offering of plant-based options to consumers –  vegetarian options are now commonplace on menus – this does not mean all meat eaters switching up beef lasagne for its vegetarian counterpart.

So how can menu design be leveraged to encourage greater uptake of veggie options in foodservice? Researchers from the University of Westminster and the World Resources Institute investigate.

Majority rules

In a new study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology​, the researchers conducted two online randomised control trials to determine the effectiveness of different menu design approaches.

Each approach was designed to ‘nudge’ participants’ food choices away from meat and towards vegetarian dishes.

In the first study, the impact that availability of vegetarian items had on choice was investigated. Participants were given menus in which 25%, 50% or 75% of items were meat-free.

Findings revealed that people who usually eat meat shifted their choice to vegetarian food only when 75% of the menu was vegetarian, but not when 50% or 25% of the items were vegetarian.

“This intervention shows the potential that the food service sector has in creating large scale shifts to encourage meat eaters to change their preferences,” ​said Dr Beth Parkin, lead author of the study from The University of Westminster.

“The findings provide practical instruction on what percentage of their food offerings should be vegetarian if they are to succeed in encouraging sustainable eating behaviours.

“If the food service industry are to decrease their carbon footprint, they need to act by providing far more plant-based items than are currently on offer.”

Does ‘V’ impact choice?

In the second study, the researchers explored the impact of the vegetarian symbols (V) on menus, to examine whether meat eaters use the symbol as an ‘exclusion decision filter’.

The study was prompted by previous research indicating ‘vegetarian’ dish sections on menus were excluded by meat eating consumers.

In this latest study, the research revealed that placement of V – either to the left or the right of the dish label – had no impact on choice.

Source: Journal of Environmental Psychology
‘Menu design approaches to promote sustainable vegetarian food choices when dining out’
Published online 7 November 2021
Authors: B.L. Parkin, S. Attwood

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