What's in a name?

Did you know that emphasising taste or cooking techniques in the name of a plant-based dish can dramatically increase sales compared to calling the same item “meat-free” or “vegetarian”? 

Health behaviours researchers on the LEAP team are developing behavioural interventions to encourage people to make more environmentally sustainable food choices. As part of this research, we organised a workshop on 29th October 2019 with industry partners to share insights and hear from companies about the challenges of naming plant-based foods. The session was a partnership with the Better Buying Lab (BBL), an initiative of the World Resources Institute. Co-op, IKEA and M&S as well as a representative from the Food Foundation gathered at the London headquarters for the advertising agency, Mother, where Jonathan Wise from the BBL led industry partners through five creative naming exercises. Each company focussed on 1-2 new or existing products. 

whats in a name

Previous insight from BBL has shown that there are effective strategies for naming. For example, it is important to not use terms that highlight what a plant-based product is lacking, such as “meat-free” or “low-fat”. It is also important to highlight that plant-based products are suitable for everyone, not just people who identify as vegan or vegetarian, so it is best to avoid using the words “vegan” or “vegetarian” in product names whenever possible if you’re targeting a mass audience. Instead, research has shown that using words that highlight where a product comes from, its flavour, and its appearance and texture all work to increase customer appeal.

While company reps were slightly anxious at first about being there with their competition, very quickly everyone was sharing insights and frustrations. The attendees generated 12 – 15 creative names for each plant-based dish brought forward to the event, using a visual display of post-it notes to help refine their list of names to their top 2 or 3 favourites.  


whats in a name

As part of the LEAP team who is focused on behavioural interventions, I found the workshop to be a hugely informative experience to see what the limitations are to giving plant-based products creative names. Research from the BBL has shown that creative naming is effective, but while we are able to generate ideas for best practice in theory, we realised that there are a lot of legal barriers to naming that are encountered in practice. By sharing insights between academia and industry, our research questions can be refined to generate more useful suggestions for industry partners which may be feasible in practice. 

One attendee from Co-op commented ‘As a retailer, we have a share of the responsibility to drive sustainable behaviour and increase plant-based options’ and highlighted the key point about ‘the crucial role of descriptive/indulgent language in persuading customers to opt for meat-free options’. IKEA representatives said that they really enjoyed ‘being part of the process, meeting people outside of IKEA and getting a glimpse of what other food companies are doing’ as well as ‘the opportunity to work hands on and dive their into our own products’.

The LEAP team is aiming to bring the outcomes from this workshop forward by further collaborating with industry partners to help promote their new creatively named plant-based products in their stores and restaurants. Our research team is always open to new industry collaborators and is happy to share insights on promoting sustainable eating behaviour. If you would like to know more, please do not hesitate to get in touch. 

To get in touch, please contact: Dr. Christina Potter, Christina.Potter@phc.ox.ac.uk