Plant-based Food: The Evolution of a Trend and Marketing in the Mainstream

Cultural analysis from HMT ConsumerLab in collaboration with Lund University


Everywhere you look today, including grocery stores, restaurants, online, and on TV, plant-based food is making its mark. This hasn’t always been the case, however. Even today there is a certain enmity towards the plant-based lifestyle, often branding those who eschew meat as sanctimonious, but in recent years there has been a notable surge in positive support and interest. This study focuses on how consumers view the evolution of plant-based food from trend to mainstream phenomenon, examining how the narrative has shifted and what this means for advertising without the advantage of a niche market.

As plant-based diets have become more mainstream, companies are no longer marketing solely to the niche segments outlined by HMT’s FourFactors® Brand Acceleration System. Today they are marketing to mass market stakeholders, consumers who have a harder time deciding to change their eating habits, such as those who continue to enjoy meat and dairy products. It becomes important therefore to understand how meat and dairy consumers understand and relate to plant-based products and diets. Consumers complain these products continue to be expensive, a result of plant-based and vegan food producers caught in the specialization mentality in which they are still marketing ‘exclusive items’.

Through various qualitative methods, including surveys, interviews, and netnographic research, my study explores current perceptions of healthy meat and dairy consumption. The goal here is to highlight how animal-based consumers view and relate to plant-based consumption and the growing health and environmentally conscious movement, find solutions derived directly from consumer perspectives, and gain insight into becoming more inclusive, bridging gaps between dietary and lifestyle choices.