The Era of The Conscious Consumer

Updated: 3 days ago

Key Takeaways

  • Consumers are getting bolder at holding businesses accountable to governance standards. Companies that fail to adapt to the needs and wants of the conscious consumer risk losing out on growth potential.

  • Geographical variation in consumer satisfaction for plant-based products reflects pockets of opportunities. Non-incumbent brands should launch vegan products in countries with low consumer satisfaction, such as Spain and South Africa.

  • Plant-based products are becoming more affordable, supported by brands' efforts to scale up and reduce costs. Perceived prices are likely to lower further in the coming years, spurring further demand and creating economies of scale.

  • Consumers not only demand more plant-based options, they also want more environmentally-friendly packaging. Price considerations are less important.

  • Vocal and demanding communities are emerging in Singapore, Argentina, Chile, and Canada. Brands must react quickly to address their demands.

Full Report

With nearly 400k reviews, our data traverses all the hottest topics about socially responsible consumption. Our previous reports have covered market recommendations for plant-based ice cream and meat.

In this report, we dig deeper into the minds of socially conscious consumers by analyzing consumer ratings and feedback. Consumers are holding businesses accountable to governance standards and are choosing to vote with their wallets. For example, 73% of global consumers are likely to change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment, and 57% of them would boycott a brand that doesn't share their social and ethical values. (1) By 2021, Nielson forecasts the sustainable fast-moving consumer goods market to reach up to US$150 billion. (2) Businesses that fail to participate in this global trend will experience market share corrosion in the next decade. In the following sections, we share our findings and identify key market opportunities for immediate action.

Market gap for better plant-based products in the UK, Spain, and South Africa

When members of abillionveg post a review, they provide a star rating that ranges between 1 to 5, with 5 being the best grade. We discovered more variation in plant-based product ratings relative to dishes, which highlights the presence of localized market gaps. For example, UK had the highest rating for vegan dishes but the lowest for products. We expect UK product ratings to catch up with its peers in the next three years as grocery stores improve their vegan product ranges. (3)

In Spain, product ratings deteriorated from 4.5 to 4.3, but dish ratings remained stable at 4.5. We observed a similar trend in South Africa, where average product ratings decreased from 4.5 to 4.4 despite an improvement in dish ratings. This reflects a market opportunity where Spanish and South African customers are increasingly less fulfilled by the available vegan products relative to dishes.

Across our major product categories, we also found interesting differences in the trend of ratings. For instance, body & skincare products performed better than other categories, although consumer satisfaction levels have weakened since 2019. In the alternative eggs, meat & seafood category, consumers in our key markets are generally happier with available products, except for Italy and Spain. Furthermore, dairy alternatives in Italy bucked the deteriorating trend seen for other product categories to post an improvement in customer ratings.

How can brands seize these market opportunities?

Leading plant-based brands absent in Spain, South Africa, the UK, Italy, and Singapore should consider entering these markets. They should also focus on the business-to-consumer (B2C) segment to make their products more accessible to consumers. At the same time, incumbent brands should enhance the quality of their products to improve consumer satisfaction. In particular, there is a market gap for good quality alternative eggs, meat & seafood products in Italy and Spain. In the US, Mexico, and Canada, where ratings are higher for products relative to dishes, companies should leverage their product strengths by promoting their products as ingredients for restaurants.

Plant-based products are becoming more affordable worldwide

Unlike ratings, the trend of perceived vegan affordability is consistent across markets. On the whole, consumers view retail vegan dining experiences as more expensive than store-bought plant-based products. Although the perceived cost of plant-based products has edged downwards from 2019 to 2020 YTD, that of vegan dining experiences has generally remained unchanged. An exception to this observation is Italy, where consumers indicated improved affordability for both plant-based dishes and products.

The downward pressure on the perceived cost of vegan products validates brands' ongoing efforts to double up on scale, reduce cost, and compete with their non-vegan competitors. For instance, Beyond Meat has introduced large value packs and discounts to US supermarkets to capture market share from real beef products. (4) We project the perceived cost of plant-based products to lower further in the coming years. This will in turn spur further demand and create economies of scale for plant-based producers.

For restaurants, the stability of perceived prices illustrates the lack of vegan dishes at affordable dining places. As such, there are immense opportunities for chains targeting the low- and mid-priced segments to introduce plant-based dishes. For example, Burger King has launched vegan chicken nuggets at several German outlets. (5)

More plant-based options are at the top of consumers' wishlists

Besides public reviews, members can send feedback to companies to tell them how to improve their plant-based offerings. These feedback messages provide a valuable source of textual data from which we can mine topics that are at the top of consumers' wishlists.

A core goal of abillionveg is to unite conscious consumers and businesses on a single platform. We’re using the data in reviews to drive socially responsible change among businesses, encouraging them to offer more sustainable plant-based options, which then attracts greater conscious consumer interest. This virtuous cycle results in greater positive impact that benefits everyone.

-Jonathan Ng, Product Manager, abillionveg

Applying topic modeling techniques, we identified key problem areas in companies' plant-based offerings. More than 60% and 40% of consumers' feedback called for more vegan options for dishes and products respectively. For products, packaging (21%) and product attributes (29%) are also important. In the former, members expressed their distaste for wasteful plastic packaging while for the latter, they brought up the dissatisfactory taste and texture of the product. Notably, price-related concerns made up less than 6% of total consumers' complaints, smaller than other factors' contributions. This is in line with survey findings which showed that consumers demand less meat and packaging, and are willing to spend more on socially conscious purchases. (6)

How can restaurants create winning plant-based dining experiences? How can brands develop successful vegan products?

Restaurants should serve more vegan-friendly dishes and ensure that diners are well-informed of the available options. For products, our research shows the multi-faceted nature of the socially conscious consumer. Apart from product qualities, companies should minimize packaging and opt for materials that are less harmful for the planet. In this aspect, Heura has taken the lead in the market and has reduced 80% of its plastic waste. (7)

Vocal consumers in Singapore and Argentina demand change

The abillionveg app allows consumers to nudge businesses, in the form of pokes, to put in more effort in their plant-based offerings. Among our top markets, consumers in Singapore and Argentina are the most vocal in their demands for change. This underscores intense calls for businesses to focus on social and environmental responsibility in these countries. For instance, more than half of Singapore consumers feel strongly about the role of businesses in preventing harm to the environment (8). Moreover, 80% of them are willing to pay higher prices for socially conscious products. (9) Likewise, environmental activism in Argentina has gained significant force in recent years. (10)

Apart from Singapore and Argentina, members in Chile and Canada are also more likely to nudge businesses, relative to the global average. Brands and restaurants present in these countries should establish seamless feedback channels, leverage data to better understand consumers' social and environmental concerns, and pivot their branding and product features to cater to demand.

You snooze, you lose

This is the conscious consumer era. Companies that snooze on the socially responsible consumption wave risk missing out on growth. From our study, we found significant geographical variation in consumer satisfaction for plant-based products. We believe this reflects abundant pockets of business opportunities. Non-incumbent brands should launch vegan products in countries with low satisfaction levels, such as Spain and South Africa. In markets like the US and Mexico, the lower dish ratings relative to products illustrate business-to-business (B2B) opportunities for leading brands to market their products as ingredients for restaurants. In addition, plant-based products are becoming more affordable. For restaurants targeting the low- and mid-priced segments, market share in the plant-based space is up for grabs. Finally, our text analysis reveals demands for more vegan options and less disposable plastic packaging.

The needs and wants of socially responsible consumers will drive future consumption trends. (11) Among our key markets, we're seeing exceptionally vocal and demanding communities emerging in Singapore, Argentina, Chile, and Canada. Underlying this wave of conscious consumerism are key areas of strategic opportunities for restaurants and brands. We urge businesses to seize these opportunities as soon as possible to stay ahead of the competition.


Authors:

Ravi Gopalan, @ravi-gopalan

Maria Tan, @mariaubergine




References

  1. Retail Council of Canada (2019) Inside the Mind of the Conscious Consumer. Retrieved from https://www.retailcouncil.org/community/sustainability/inside-the-mind-of-the-conscious-consumer/

  2. Gelski, J. (2019) Sustainable product market could hit $150 billion in US by 2021. Retrieved from https://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/13133-sustainable-product-market-could-hit-150-billion-in-us-by-2021

  3. Ho, S. (2020) Plant-based Supermarket: Asda First UK Grocer to Launch 100% Vegan Aisles due to Rising Demand. Retrieved from **https://www.greenqueen.com.hk/plant-based-supermarket-asda-first-u-k-grocer-to-launch-100-vegan-aisles-due-to-rising-demand/

  4. Geller, M. & Cavale, S. (2020) Beyond Meat Plans US Discounts, Hopes to Replace Beef on Summer Grills. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-beyond-meat-results-prices-idUSKBN22H2T7

  5. Ho, S. (2020) Burger King Launches the Vegetarian Butcher Plant-based Chicken Nuggets in Germany. Retrieved from https://www.greenqueen.com.hk/burger-king-launches-plant-based-chicken-nuggets-germany/

  6. Vegconomist (2020) Conscious Consumerism: Young Consumers Want Less Meat and Packaging. Retrieved from https://vegconomist.com/studies-and-numbers/conscious-consumerism-young-consumers-want-less-meat-and-packaging/

  7. Ho, S. (2020) Plant Meat Startup Heura Introduces Recyclable Packaging That Reduces Plastic Use by 80%. Retrieved from https://www.greenqueen.com.hk/plant-meat-startup-heura-introduces-recyclable-packaging-that-reduce-plastic-use-by-80/

  8. Koh, H. (2018) Half of Singaporeans Want Sustainable Brands. Retrieved from https://www.eco-business.com/news/half-of-singaporeans-want-sustainable-brands/

  9. Singapore Business Review (2020) Conscious Consumerism, Experiential Selling are the Top Retail Trends for 2020. Retrieved from https://sbr.com.sg/retail/in-focus/conscious-consumerism-experiential-selling-are-top-retail-trends-2020

  10. Koop, F. (2019) Environmental Activism on Rise in Argentina Amid Climate Emergency. Retrieved from https://www.batimes.com.ar/news/argentina/environmental-activism-on-rise-in-argentina-amid-climate-emergency.phtml

  11. Perkins, B. & Fenech, C. (2014) The Deloitte Consumer Review: The Growing Power of Consumers. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/consumer-business/consumer-review-8-the-growing-power-of-consumers.pdf