Marketing of local plant-based alternatives

23 June 2020 - Published by Hein Braaksma
The current consumption patterns regarding meat and dairy harm the environment and do not contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Reducing meat and dairy consumption can help to mitigate issues such as biodiversity loss, CO2 emissions, disruption of the nitrogen cycle and risks for cardiovascular diseases. The question is whether there are feasible, profitable and likable alternatives for consumer’s meat and dairy demand. Previous research has found that even if plant-based alternatives exist, consumers are often reluctant to switch to them. Therefore, developing promotion strategies for plant-based meat and dairy alternatives that appeal to consumers is both challenging and important.

Within the Faculty of Economics and Business at the University of Groningen (RUG), four projects were conducted by students under supervision of prof. J. van Doorn and K. van Ittersum to investigate how plant-based meat and dairy alternatives can best be promoted. Main question was which marketing messages would make more sustainable and healthy alternatives to meat and dairy, that have as an additional benefit that they are locally produced, accepted by the population of Groningen. As part of the projects, the students performed field studies and/or conducted surveys in order to investigate the most effective marketing strategies for these projects and the extent to which they affect the attitudes towards the product.

Three projects investigated how a more sustainable meatball consisting of 70% meat and 30% locally produced beans can be promoted. Strategies focusing on local or healthy claims (i.e., that the product is locally produced or good for your health) were more preferred than a label highlighting the sustainability of the product. Respondents evaluated the perceived quality and benefits for the environment and health significantly higher for the meatball with locally produced beans compared to the regular meatball. 65% of the participants indicated that they would intend to buy the meatballs with beans. Furthermore, a price between 2€ and 4€ was perceived as most appropriate for the meatball with beans.


A fourth project developed a campaign to motivate people to reduce dairy consumption by introducing a “Milkless Monday” – asking people to choose milk alternatives for once a week. As such, people may become more aware of milk alternatives and may consider reducing their dairy consumption in general. Besides, general consumption patterns and attitudes were gathered concerning people’s milk consumption. Focusing on environmental arguments regarding substituting cow’s milk with plant-based alternatives was found to be more effective than highlighting health benefits. Interestingly, many people indicated that they drink cow’s milk out of habit and due to the price of milk. 

Summing up, the findings lead to the conclusion that in general, more sustainable and healthy alternatives to meat and dairy are evaluated positively. This indicates that bringing products such as the meatball with local beans to the market may be lucrative and desirable. Focusing the marketing promotion on sustainable and health claims on the package seem most effective. Breaking the habit of cow’s milk consumption by campaigns such as a “Milkless Monday” may be an effective measure to accustom people with dairy alternatives in general, yet breaking the habit of dairy consumption is also challenging.