First impressions are everything; they can make or break your message depending on the opinions of your audience. Which is why Bruce Friedrich of the Good Food Institute says if you want to sell vegan products, do not market them as vegan. A product with a vegan label risks losing potential patrons over the idea that it is meant exclusively for vegans. So is it better to leave out the V-Word all together?
The word plant-based offers a somewhat similar sentiment to the word vegan; advocating for a diet of primarily plants, with little or no animal products. This word choice provides a clean slate to consumers who have no negative associations with the phrase. Vegan, on the other hand, has a bad reputation that can leave a sour taste in consumers mouths before they have even tried the product. Plant-based does not hold this same stigma as it reflects only a dietary preference rather than ethical stance.
So it’s no surprise that a survey performed by Mattson found that people associate the word plant-based with tasting better, being healthier and more flexible compared to vegan. This shows that a simple change of phrase can make your product more appealing to consumers overall. Plant-based acts as a Trojan horse, invading the consciousness of closed-minded consumers and opening them up to the possibility of excluding animals from their diet. Plant-based is associated with abundance and choice, while vegan is seen to be synonymous with restriction and deprivation.
Due to these social stigmas, the word vegan can act as a repellent for many, deterring them from exploring ethical alternatives. There is no doubt that veganism is in need of a re-branding, shifting the rhetoric away from aggressive exclusivity, towards a model that meets people where they are and encourages them along with all steps of their journey.
But veganism is not just about what you eat, it is about how you choose to live. These principles factor into every choice you make from the clothes you wear to the companies your support. These are the nuances that the term plant-based fails to capture. We have to be strategic in how we advocate, and using the term plant-based can help people see this lifestyle as not only realistic but closely aligned with the values they already hold.
We as vegans must come to recognize the power of words. The preference for plant-based over vegan indicates that people are open to changing their lifestyle, but are held back by their preconceived notions of what it means to be vegan. It is our job to help them envision a life for themselves free of animal exploitation. If that means sometimes using the term plant-based rather than vegan, so be it. The stakes are too high to not use every tool at our disposal.