Upper Ed: Veronica Fell, Founder of Grounded Foods Co., on Convenience as Imperative – The Vegeconomist

Veronica Fell is a former behavioral economist who now specializes in marketing for the alternative protein industry. She is the co-founder of Grounded Foods Company and the author of Plant Based USA: A Guide to Eating Animal-Free in America.

Convenience as a forgotten factor in plant-based intake

By Veronica Phil

Given the monumental hype surrounding plant-based proteins over the past few years, you may be wondering why demand for these products has yet to reach the fever pitch we’ve all been hoping for.

“…we’re missing a fundamental and alarmingly influential factor from the conversation, and that’s convenience”

What’s the hold up? Why aren’t we achieving more widespread consumer adoption of plant-based products? As more people begin to understand and accept the health, environmental and/or ethical need for this change in global dietary habits, the market for alternative proteins is still relatively small.

© Hungry Planet

Industry commentators generally cite taste and price as the primary reasons behind this disappointing traction.* Which I agree with. But I also believe we’re missing a fundamental and worryingly influential factor from the conversation, and that’s convenience.

Benefits > Nutrition

Before living in the US and running my own food company, I appreciated how important convenience is to the everyday flexible consumer. Sometimes it’s more important than nutrition (the proliferation of fast food restaurants is proof of that).

Often it takes precedence over taste (if it’s good enough in a hurry, it’s good enough). And I’m constantly shocked that people are willing to pay high Instacart delivery costs just to avoid the hassle of a grocery run.

© dmitrimaruta-stock.adobe.com

As much as I hate it, we live in a society where salads are pre-cut and sealed in an airtight plastic bag to stay fresh for a long time. Where pre-packaged apple slices are sold at McDonald’s drive-thru. Where people actually load their shopping carts with culinary abominations that are uncrustable; Cut crusts with a frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Because the 30 seconds it took to spread peanut butter on a slice of bread was too much to handle.

“…we have to deal with all the obstacles that make a plant-based choice a little harder”

The reality of how convenience is influencing our food choices. So if we want to increase mainstream acceptance of alternative proteins, we need to address the barriers that make plant-based choices a little more difficult.

nice spoon
© Nice spoon

The growing popularity of meal delivery services indicates that, broadly speaking, it is not convenient for people to prepare their meals from scratch. In fact, according to the kids on TikTok, you’d be considered living in an “ingredient household” if your pantry wasn’t constantly stocked with processed snacks.

Make them more convenient

It is not convenient for people to take time in food-preparation or learn new skills to adapt to a new way of eating. Not when traditional meat and dairy products are available in abundance at such low cost. It’s not convenient to go to multiple stores to get a week’s worth of plant-based groceries—that is, if you go to the grocery store at all. And if you do, it’s probably not worth spending an extra 15 minutes walking around trying to figure out which aisle they’ve hidden vegan sausages in this week.

Everything is legendary plant-based cheeseburger
©Everything is legendary

So how do we get these products into more faces, more consistently, making them more convenient? Here are some broad strategies to consider.

  • Plant-based options continue to be offered in familiar formats. Yes, this includes highly processed frozen meals, treats and on-the-go snacks. Because they play an important role in creating plant-based ideals, and are not just a novelty.
  • Making plant-based menu items a default option in schools, cafeterias, hospitals and workplaces.
  • Giving plant-based products equal shelf space at checkouts, at gas stations, in vending machines, and alongside their meat and dairy products. Not stuck in the shady recesses of the store, in the back where the light bulbs are burning.
  • Avoiding terminology and marketing messages that discourage or alienate people from trying plant-based alternatives (eg focusing on everything it lacks as opposed to its positive and value-added attributes).

Unfortunately, these are not things that can be successfully tackled by small food brands. If we are going to move towards a more sustainable food system, we need the support of manufacturers, retailers, government agencies and large corporations.

Change is very inconvenient, but in this case, we need to talk about it.

* For the record, I do not agree that demand for plant-based foods is declining (as some media outlets have suggested). It was just grossly overstated in the first place. Now that we’re resetting expectations and getting back to reality, it’s going to grow at a steady rate – as it has for many years.

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