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Insights and Intelligence

  • 07 Aug 2023
  • 5 min

Flipping the grill with behaviour change

Can behaviour change tactics get plant-based meat growing again? Caroline, Senior Strategist, unpicks the traditional views of masculinity with meat and the impact this has on our planet.

With signs of glorious sunshine coming back in the UK, barbecue season will no doubt shortly follow. But as the nation soaks up the summer weather, there’s a worrying trend which, if left unchecked, could help push temperatures uncomfortably high and bring more extreme weather like floods and droughts.

Consumption of Plant Based Meat

After a spell of rising popularity, we’re likely to put fewer plant-based burgers on our grills this summer. Consumption of plant-based meat is now shrinking and some brands are cutting their ranges or even struggling for survival. The cost of living crisis has a huge role to play, as consumers trim their food shopping budgets and more expensive plant-based products fail to make the cut. But price sensitivity isn’t the only thing standing in the way of greater plant-based meat adoption. Barriers range from concerns about taste and texture to weak brand equity.

This is not great news for our warming planet. The evidence shows that eating less meat is a powerful way to reduce your emissions and help tackle climate change. Reversing this trend isn’t just about delivering commercial growth - it’s a crucial opportunity to encourage a more climate-friendly way of living.

Data from Mintel finds that roughly a quarter of the UK population eat plant-based meat at least once per week. How can we get the other three quarters to choose plant based more often? To effectively change mainstream behaviour, we need to really get to grips with what’s actually holding people back.

Who Are We Talking To?

We can start by identifying who we’re talking to. Research has found that compared to women, men eat more meat and are less open to becoming vegetarian, for example. And it’s also found that the more men conform to traditional gender roles, the more frequently they eat beef and chicken and the less they are open to vegetarianism.

Which brings us back to barbecues. Search Google Images for pictures of a person barbecuing and you’ll find yourself scrolling through endless images of dudes grilling sausages and steaks. Though we’ve broken down many of society’s rigid gender stereotypes over the years, for many, eating meat continues to be closely linked to what it means to be a man.

We all have a certain image of ourselves, and the group we see ourselves as belonging to, which is reinforced through our behaviours and choices. All of which means that for these men, the idea of giving up meat can actually threaten their sense of identity and group belonging.

Behaviour Change Around Eating Meat

So maybe one question we can start with is - how can we get more men with traditional views of masculinity to eat more plant-based meat?

Positive Deviants

One idea is to use positive deviants. Humans look to others for cues on how we should behave. But if we see someone like us (or someone that we admire) acting differently - a ‘positive deviant’ this can start to set a new norm. A ‘manly,’ pro-plant-based brand spokesperson could get people thinking differently about the connection between masculinity and meat-eating.

It’s a tactic we can see at work in other sectors. Mental health charity CALM employed it for their ‘Invisible opponent ’ campaign, choosing heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury to reframe talking about mental health as a manlier choice than keeping struggles bottled up.

Influencing With Other People

We could also use the influence of other people to drive more men to change. Can we get fathers thinking about how their kids see them, tapping into their desire to be a good role model and make the world a better place for their kids? Or can we make giving up meat desirable to women, driving men to choose plant-based in the hopes it could boost their chances of scoring a date?

It’s an approach we’ve used before to reach young male drivers for the Scottish Government. This group is more likely to have car accidents than anyone else, partly because they see themselves as invincible. They also tend to ignore warnings from authority figures like their parents or the police. However, research found that young men become more careful when they have ‘precious cargo’, like elderly relatives, in the car. So we created a campaign called 'Drive like Gran's in the car' and used these influential family members to deliver our message. As a result, 40% of this hard-to-influence group took action.

From meat and dairy substitutes to air source heat pumps, the number of products and technologies that could help us radically reduce our carbon emissions continues to grow. Marketers can play a key role in encouraging more people to start using these tools sooner.

Brands Need to Lead the Way

But as the example of plant-based meat demonstrates, telling mainstream audiences about the climate benefits of these products isn’t enough. If we really want to drive deep, lasting change amongst a broad spectrum of the British public, we need to understand the role that these actions play in people’s lives and identities, and reframe new behaviours as socially desirable. It’s time for climate-friendly brands to beef up on behaviour change principles - the future of our world depends on it.