Using consumption and reward simulations to increase the appeal of plantbased foods
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Description: The production of meat is a main contributor to current dangerous levels of greenhouse gas emissions. However, the shift to more plant-based diets is hampered by consumers finding meat-based foods more attractive than plant-based foods. How can plant-based foods best be described to increase their appeal to consumers? Based on the grounded cognition theory of desire, we suggest that descriptions that trigger simulations, or re-experiences, of eating and enjoying a food will increase the attractiveness of a food, compared to descriptions emphasising ingredients. In Study 1, we first examined the descriptions of ready meals available in four large UK supermarkets (N = 240). We found that the labels of meat-based foods contained more references to eating simulations than vegetarian foods, and slightly more than plant-based foods, and that this varied between supermarkets. In Studies 2 and 3 (N =170, N = 166, pre-registered), we manipulated the labels of plant-based and meat-based foods to either include eating simulation words or not. We assessed the degree to which participants reported that the description made them think about eating the food (i.e., induced eating simulations), and how attractive they found the food or whether they would order it. In Study 2, where either sensory or eating context words were added, we found no differences with neutral control labels. In Study 3, however, where simulation-based labels included sensory, context, and hedonic words, we found that simulation-based descriptions increased eating simulations and attractiveness. Moreover, frequent meat eaters found plant-based foods less attractive, but this was attenuated when plant-based foods were described with simulation-inducing words. We suggest that language that describes rewarding eating experiences can be used to facilitate the shift toward healthy and sustainable diets.