Industries in Depth

How the words we use can make healthier foods more appealing

A customer eats a vegetarian dish at Tasty Beet Juicy and Healthy Food restaurant in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico January 29, 2018. Picture taken January 29, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez - RC1671481220

Researchers have revealed how language associated with healthy foods affects perceptions of flavour. Image: REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Thin Lei Win
Food Security Correspondent, Thomson Reuters Foundation
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Rich and zesty or low fat and vegan? Clever marketing with mouth-watering words can boost sales of plant-based dishes by more than 70 percent, experts said on Tuesday, amid a drive to cut meat intake to improve human and planetary health.

Describing sausages as 'Cumberland-spiced' rather than 'meat-free' and promoting a soup as 'Cuban' instead of 'low fat vegetarian' increased sales in British and U.S. cafes, found research by the World Resources Institute (WRI) think tank.

"Right now, the predominant language is 'meat-free', 'vegan' and 'vegetarian' and that doesn't have associations with deliciousness," said Daniel Vennard, head of WRI's Better Buying Lab, which aims to get people to eat more sustainable foods.

Image: World Resources Institute

"Language isn't a silver bullet, but it's going to have a key role in reframing the food and luring in a whole new set of the population," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Many people in the United States and Europe eat more than double the recommended levels of meat for their health and experts say reducing consumption of animal products would be a relatively easy way to tackle climate change.

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Scientists unveiled in January what they said was an ideal diet - doubling consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes, and halving meat and sugar intake - which could prevent 11 million premature deaths and cut planet-heating emissions.

But vegans are often seen as weak hippies and consumers dismiss vegetarian meals as bland, the WRI's two-year study found, urging restaurants and retailers to emphasise instead the provenance, flavour, look and feel of food.

Language such as 'low fat', 'reduced-sodium' or 'lighter choice' also tends to lessen enjoyment of food in the United States and Britain because people believe healthy food is not tasty, the researchers said.

"The findings can help the world move towards a more sustainable diet by making plant-based foods to be more normal and more appetising," said Vennard.

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