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Vegetarian Consumer Behaviour Essay

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Updated: Jun 7th, 2022


With the growing global population and demand for food, negative impacts on the environment and people’s health become evident. The scientific research tries to study various links between food consumption, healthy lifestyles and climate change (Sanchez-Sabate and Sabaté, 2019). Both the responses of consumers and manufacturers’ approaches to production are constantly changing. Among the vivid examples, one may mention the lower red meat eating after the studies confirming that it promotes cancer, heart diseases and diabetes (Verbeke, Sans and Van Loo, 2015). On the one hand, many consumers are more likely to avoid meat or significantly limit its consumption, understanding that their decisions impact not only their health but also the environment. On the other hand, people remain reluctant to changing their eating patterns, which is caused by several reasons, such as unawareness, a lack of availability and cultural issues.

The statistics show that agriculture and unconscious food consumption make an imprint on the land, water, species and air. O’Keefe et al. (2016) state that “the average British adult consuming 79.1 kg of meat” annually, according to the 2012 National Diet and Nutrition Survey (p. 413). In comparison, the global meat consumption is estimated at 38 kg per person every year, which means a dramatic influence on the environment. For example, Scherhaufer et al. (2018) report that food waste is attributed to 15-16% of environmental pollution in Europe. More than 88 tonnes of food waste is produced, while agriculture uses 70% of freshwater (Figure 1). More to the point, agriculture produces 78% of waterways pollution, and the number of crop yields increased significantly, which threatens 24,000 species (Ritchie and Roser, 2020). Transportation of food is another concern that not only ensures export and import but also pollutes the air. For instance, the shipment of one kg avocados from Mexico to the UK generates 0.21kg CO2eq in transport emissions (Ritchie and Roser, 2020). Nevertheless, this amount of emissions is much lesser compared to the production of animal foods.

Environmental impacts of food and agriculture 
Figure 1. Environmental impacts of food and agriculture

The urgent need for accommodating contemporary food consumption patterns is recognised by global organisations. The UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 declares that the target set for 2030 is to halve the extent of food waste by focusing on avoidable waste (Scherhaufer et al., 2018). According to the Climate Change Act, to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, it is critical to reduce the current rate of food consumption (O’Keefe et al., 2016). While this agenda is clearly stated across the countries, the perceptions of consumers seem to be resistant to eating healthy and contributing to environmental sustainability. Raphaely (2015) states that the advances in agriculture created a threat to the environment, and it is important to study this situation in an in-depth manner.

The reduction of meat consumption is the approach that is broadly referred to as vegetarianism. The review of 49 studies provided by Hallström, Carlsson-Kanyama Börjesson (2015) shows that changes in eating patterns can lead to the 50% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. The dietary change is the expected result of improving awareness among consumers, which can be achieved through the cooperated actions of global organisations, manufacturers, food retailers and consumers.

Outlining the Topic

What consumers choose to eat largely impacts their food purchasing behaviours and attitudes towards sustainability. The decisions to eat less meat are associated with health considerations, welfare issues and environmental concerns (Godfray et al., 2018; Machovina, Feeley and Ripple, 2015). The choice of vegetables, fruits and cereals promotes less pressure on the land and water resources. In general, the idea of ethical food consumption is identified as a viable approach to minimise the environmental impact. Of a variety of healthy dieting patterns, vegetarianism is discussed in terms of health benefits and ethics. Along with a more concise approach to nutrition, it prioritises building responsibility in society.

The phenomenon of vegetarianism involves several variations, including but not limited to flexitarianism, veganism and lacto-ovo vegetarianism (Duckett et al., 2020). Those who identify as vegans follow the philosophy of abandoning animal products. In their turn, environmental vegans are opposed to using animal products for any purposes, be it food or cosmetics. Compared to vegans, vegetarians abstain from meat and its by-products, while lacto-ovo vegetarians may include eggs and dairy products in their diet (Austgulen et al., 2018). Such an extensive development of vegetarian lifestyles indicates that people are ready to try innovative dieting options, while their intentions can be motivated by different reasons (Milburn, 2020). Considering that this new trend determines consumers’ purchases, it is important to better understand them, which is expected to help managers to adjust their approaches and allows scholars to identify the areas for future research (Martínez, Ros and Nieto, 2019; O’Riordan and Stoll-Kleemann, 2015). The purpose of this literature review is to gain an understanding of consumers’ choice of a vegetarian lifestyle and how it is changing worldwide, which is timely in terms of modern consumer needs.

Process of Data Collection and Analysis

To gather the articles for this literature review report, only peer-reviewed journals included in the Academic Journal Guide (also known as the ABS list) were considered. After the identification of the topic being studied, the library’s Discover tool was used to search for academic journals that were, in turn, searched for papers on the target topic. The keywords used were selected in advance and adjusted in the process of data collection and synthesis. Namely, the reviewer focused on the following words and their combinations: “healthy nutrition” (2121 search results), “vegetarianism” (1527 search results), “consumer behaviour” (3256 search results), “ethical food consumption” (2599 search results) and “environmental sustainability” (6324 search results).

The inclusion criteria were the article topic, publisher, empirical research and timeliness. At the same time, the exclusion criteria were composed of irrelevant types of research, outdated nature and out of the topic analysis. Upon the completion of the search, the articles were divided according to the following three streams: current trends in consumer behaviour regarding healthy nutrition, consumers’ attitudes to vegetarianism and environmental impact / ethical consumption. Based on the abstracts of the collected sources and looking through their full texts, a tabular analysis was performed. In total, the number of the reviewed articles was 43, while additional sources were obtained for explaining the relevance of this paper to the contemporary state of consumer behaviour studies.

Reflecting on Methods

Narrative Literature Review

Since the narrative literature review type was chosen for this paper, it implied that a large number of academic should is to be collected and analysed to present information in an organised way. First, the available evidence was surveyed according to the stated exclusion and inclusion criteria to choose the most fitting studies. Second, information was synthesised into a summary to reveal gaps in current knowledge and clarify the areas for change. Third, the critical analysis of the selected articles allowed for integrating them in this literature review and discussing implications for different audiences. The key advantages of the narrative literature review are its qualitative nature and structured knowledge integration. The latter allowed for the proper division of the studies to ensure that the literature insights would be discussed in detail. However, the disadvantages of this type of review involve the threat of being excessively subjective while analysing the articles, which can potentially create biased perceptions. Also, a lack of a quantitative method of analysis may result in less accurate conclusions.


While a significant number of articles was gathered, the sample of this report is still limited, which should be taken into account to avoid overgeneralisations. Considering that the articles collected were conducted in various countries, it provides a wide perspective, but may also lead to the cultural biases. The emerging fashion of vegetarianism in terms of sustainable consumption is one more limitation that is inherent in the topic being reviewed.

Literature Review

The review of the gathered literature allows for distinguishing between several themes that are extensively discussed by scholars. The level of consumers’ awareness and sustainability literacy compose the first trend that has different evaluations: some others found that there is a weak connection between ethical consumption and food choices, but others reported that this awareness increases (O’Keefe et al., 2016; Nikolova and Inman, 2015). The motivations and perceptions of consumers is another theme that is largely through a focus on vegetarianism trends (Wayne, 2013). Ultimately, this literature review integrates reliable information on healthy eating and climate impact to understand how consumers’ behaviours change in the context of the need for ethical consumption and environmental protection.

Current Trends in Consumer Behaviour Regarding Healthy Nutrition

The first and foremost concern of consumers eating unhealthy foods is their health outcomes. The absolute majority of people understand that products they eat impact their health, but there are many reasons for choosing unhealthy options, including affordability, availability, taste preferences, cultural habits, and so on. Coary and Poor (2016) discuss the role of social media in how consumers approach their eating: the number of phots with “food” hashtag increased from 800,000 to 183 billion from 2013 to 2015. Such trends as delayed consumption and increased savouring are identified as a result of media and technology influences. According to Coary and Poor (2016, p. 6), the statistical analysis shows that those participants who were offered making consumer-generated images (CGI) “reported more favourable taste evaluations and attitudes toward the healthy food”. This means that the attitudes to healthy nutrition are largely motivated by the changing social norms that are related to social media.

The current extent to which consumers are aware of healthy eating benefits is explored by Spiteri Cornish and Moraes (2015) and Chinea, Suárez and Hernández (2020). The provision of irrelevant and inadequate nutrition information by some companies leads to low literacy of consumers, which hinders their efforts to eat healthier. In their interpretative study with 34 participants, Spiteri Cornish and Moraes (2015) attempted to uncover the responses of customers to inconsistent information, finding that it makes many feel confused and frustrated. The core difficulty is associated with a lack of competence to distinguish between reliable and non-credible sources of information, which significantly impedes the implementation of healthy nutrition habits (Table 1). As stated by Chinea, Suárez and Hernández (2020), many consumers blame policymakers in these difficulties and turn to unreliable but appealing labels and advertisements. In a wider perspective, the meaning of food for consumers is an integral part of their sacred and moral factors.

The evidence presents a range of articles that investigate the motivational dynamics of changing consumer behaviour in terms of healthy eating. The main factors involve age, gender and dieting choices, which are taken into account either separately or in combination with other characteristics of consumers (Verstuyf et al., 2016). Chinea, Suárez and Hernández (2020) report that people sticking to veganism and vegetarianism are more likely to consider ethics and environmental concerns while buying foods compared to those who consume meat. In turn, using the expanded theory of planned behaviour, Chan, Prendergast and Ng (2016) concentrated on the intentions of adolescents to engage in healthy eating (Figure 2). As a result, it was revealed that higher self-efficacy and perceived behavioural control are the main determinants that encourage adolescents to try healthy nutrition. The role of gender is discussed in two articles that both point that males’ choices are more likely to be influenced by subjective norms (Chan, Prendergast and Ng, 2016; Verstuyf et al., 2016). In predicting boys’ and girls’ healthy eating, their attitudes and the role given to social norms should be taken into account.

The expanded theory of planned behaviour by Chan, Prendergast and Ng
Figure 2. The expanded theory of planned behaviour by Chan, Prendergast and Ng (2016).

The meta-analysis field experiment illustrates that the reduction in the unhealthy eating is more effective compared to the interventions for increasing healthy nutrition patterns (Cadario and Chandon, 2020). These findings correlate with the findings that are reported by O’Keefe et al. (2016), who focus on customers’ responses to potential changes. The analysis of several focus groups with 40 participants in total allowed clarifying that the current purchasing intentions of customers are not stimulated by environmental consciousness (Table 1). The authors also suggest that the policies should be directed not to calling for a more ethical eating approach, but combining it with affordable prices for healthy products. This recommendation is supported by the idea that the opportunity for healthy eating lies in creating “the widest possible context of food practices” (O’Keefe et al., 2016, p. 424). The importance of relevant policies is also stressed by Guèvremont (2019), claiming that brand attachment is a key to promoting healthy eating lifestyles. It becomes evident that organisations and companies need to accommodate their policies to contribute to change.

The regulation of nutrition patterns and their improvement to make eating healthier are conducted by different parties, including policymakers, restaurants and cafes, as well as consumers. The empirical research by Verstuyf et al. (2016) shows that healthy eating behaviours positively correlate with health-focused and autonomous eating regulation, while appearance-centred nutrition increases the risk of eating disorders among adolescent females. The studies that should be mentioned in relation to the above article explain how restaurants and food organisations can contribute to healthy nutrition of the population. For example, the between-subjects design experiment of Bos et al. (2018) indicates that food environment shapes the attitudes of customers, which especially apparent when it comes to vending machines. Traditionally, they offer high-calorie choices to eat on the go. Ultimately, Lo, King and Mackenzie (2017), using the online survey, state that consumers pay little attention to sustainability and prioritise nutritional aspects of food. The authors suggest that transparent labelling, along with restricting high-calorie options is a promising intervention.

Table 1. Consumer Behaviour Regarding Healthy Nutrition

Author / Date Sample Context Purpose Methods Findings
Bos et al.(2018) 206 respondents Food environment Vending machines Between-subjects design experiment Low-calorie options are promising
Cadario and Chandon (2020) 278 effect sizes Healthy eating nudges Studying healthy eating drivers Meta-analysis Interventions for reducing unhealthy eating are more effective
Chan, Prendergast and Ng (2016) 635 adolescent Expanded Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) Testing TPB Questionnaires, confirmatory factor analysis Perceived behavioural control and self-efficacy
Chinea, Suárez and Hernández (2020) 314 participants Vegans, specific dieters, gluten avoidance Verify the meaning of the food Multivariate analyses Vegetarians pay more attention to food ethics
Coary and Poor (2016) 3 studies Consumer-generated images (CGI) Impact of CGI Statistical analysis Delayed consumption, increased savouring
Guèvremont (2019) 14 interviews Three Times a Day brand Consumers’ behavioural changes Netnography Brand attachment
Lo, King and Mackenzie (2017) 1255 responses Hong Kong hotel
Menu labelling analysis Online survey Nutritional aspects perceived as more important
Nikolova and Inman (2015) 535,000 shoppers Point-of-sale nutrition scoring system Nutritional Information presentation Large-scale quasi-experiment Healthier food choices
O’Keefe et al.(2016) 40 participants The UK Anticipate consumer responses Focus groups / qualitative analysis Climate change do not impact consumer purchases
Spiteri Cornish and Moraes (2015) 34 consumers Consumer confusion Improve health literacy Interpretive methodology Consumers respond to health
Verstuyf et al. (2016) 99 adolescents Healthy eating behaviours Motives and goals of eating Descriptive and path analyses Controlled and appearance-focused and eating correlate with eating disorders

Consumers’ Attitudes to Vegetarianism

Throughout the world, there is a significant shift towards healthy eating and, namely, vegetarianism since the purchase intents for the related products grows. The study by Kumar and Kapoor (2015) distinguishes between the consumers’ buying behaviours regarding vegetarian and non-vegetarian, which is based on simple statistical analysis. The sample of 282 households of India allows for concluding that customers prefer verifying both categories of products before purchasing them, and market attributes play a great role in defining people’s choices. The key aspects that were prioritised by consumers involved freshness, package and brand loyalty to vegetarian products (Kumar and Kapoor, 2015). The findings of Avital et al. (2020), who explore the Mediterranean diet adherence among Israeli vegetarians, omnivores and vegans, also indicate that vegans pay more attention to the product attributes compared to other participants (Table 2). Accordingly, the results of these two studies may point to a healthier dietary pattern that is adopted by vegans and vegetarians.

The inherent motivations that are characteristic of vegetarianism and veganism compose another broad area of research, which is critical for understanding and anticipating consumers’ behaviours. Chwialkowska (2018) concentrates on the family role and claims that the family members are likely to conform to common nutrition being an interdepended system. In addition, the self-endorsement and internalisation of the vegan diet with the goal of sustainable consumption is discussed as a convincing intervention. Consistent with Chwialkowska (2018), Judge and Wilson (2019) and Napoli and Ouschan (2020) state that only internalised motives become strong drivers of consumers. At the same time, Judge and Wilson (2019) clarify the motivational basis of people’s attitudes towards vegans and vegetarians in New Zealand. These authors argue that while males are less positive towards both vegans and vegetarians, females tend to be more neutral. According to Napoli and Ouschan (2020), among the underlying moral motivations of consumers, there are freedom, authentic self and the sanctity of life. The above article confirms that for many vegans, food is a measure of satisfying psychological needs.

Considering meat consumption from a consumer perspective, it should be stressed that people tend to perceive this product as a historical symbol of power and subjugation. On the contrary, vegetarian dieting is recognised as something weak and submissive, mainly feminine. Although modernisation and globalisation processes significantly changed the way people perceive meat, the mentioned symbols still impact society (Pohjolainen, Vinnari and Jokinen, 2015). The above authors declare that the barriers to practising vegan and vegetarian diets are closely associated with consumers’ social status, age, the area of living and experience of similar diets among the family members. The critical analysis of 4890 questionnaire responses from Finn respondents demonstrates that a low social status, insufficient education and rural residence serve as the barriers to decreasing and astonishing meat eating (Pohjolainen, Vinnari and Jokinen, 2015). It also coincides with the historical perspective that males, younger adults, as well as those who especially value traditions, are less likely to practice vegetarianism.

The effect of changing consumer behaviour that is likely to be more enthusiastic to veganism and vegetarianism is one of the areas that are studied in the academic literature. Grabs (2015), for example, pay attention to the use of resources by Swedish vegetarians and its imprint on the environment. The statistical analysis of 4000 Swedish households allowed the author to calculate that it is potentially possible to achieve a 49% greenhouse gas emissions savings by reducing this pollution source by 20 % (Grabs, 2015). Among the interventions used by the mentioned author, there were switching to vegetarianism and associated purchasing of organic goods. The greater understanding of why consumers avoid meat is explored by Tosun and Yanar Gürce (2018), who conducted the content analysis of web forums to consider consumers’ comments. Figure 3 presents the key dimensions that are regarded as important when avoiding meat. These results go in line with those that are reported by Ploll and Stern (2020), whose study focuses on the environmental aspect of vegetarianism.

Meat anti-consumption drivers 
Figure 3. Meat anti-consumption drivers

Namely, the article by Ploll and Stern (2020) shows that vegans and vegetarians of Australia are more likely to behave consciously while purchasing food. The empirical nature of the study led to convincing results that the stricter the diet and stronger the intentions of consumers to protect the environment. The dietary categories, subjective norms and dietary motives were examined to differentiate between buying behaviours of vegetarians and vegans. In turn, Tosun and Yanar Gürce (2018) focused on Turkish websites to collect the comments of users, which resulted in revealing that sustainability, cost and health concerns exist. Mann and Necula (2020) noted an interesting issue that the rate of meat consumption remains stable for decades, yet vegetarians increased by 14% in Switzerland (Table 2). This discrepancy was targeted by the above authors, who found that while vegetarianism tends to grow, the segment of heavy meat eaters also escalates. This means that even though the trend is evident, it is not yet strong enough to impact consumption patterns.

Marketing communication appeals regarding healthy nutrition and meat anti-consumption is one more area of research that should be discussed as it has a great potential to influence consumers’ choices. On the one hand, humane meat brands use animal and welfare appeals to call for decreasing meat eating to make a positive impact (Soule and Sekhon , 2019). On the other hand, meat anti-consumption appeals of vegan brands are likely to use taste-related strategies to redirect customers’ attention to freshness, juiciness and deliciousness. This study that was performed by Soule and Sekhon (2019) has some common goals with the one by Kumar and Kapoor (2017), who investigate the role of product labelling among Indian young consumers. Namely, they found that food labelling was regarded as an extremely important issue that included both product quality and product specification.

Elaborating on the impact of marketing communication on consumer behaviours, it seems to be useful to turn to the article by Kim and Hall (2020), concentrating on customer loyalty of sustainable restaurants. The key question under the discussion is whether consumers appreciate sustainable practices or not. To address this question, the authors initiated the online survey and collected the responses from 476 participants (Table 2). The results of the identified study indicate that waste reduction and other environmental sustainability practices of restaurants impact consumers’ hedonic and utilitarian values. In other words, diner behaviours of people are influenced by the constructs of environmental concern, which is expressed in their loyalty to such dining options and growing engagement in ethical consumption. As stated by Ophélie (2016), vegan activism becomes a social movement with unique cultural and political characteristics that shape the attitudes of people to meat eating. The effectiveness of everyday activism is rated as convincing by the above researcher, who argues that vegan lifestyles make a positive impact on society.

The extremely fast introduction and strengthening of social media in consumers’ everyday lives impact their purchasing behaviours and dining preferences. Teng and Wang (2015) obtained 693 questionnaires to analyse the role of organic food labelling and found that information revealing correlates with positive attitudes. Similar results are described by Phua, Jin and Kim (2019): celebrities’ endorsements regarding veganism cause a social impact on customers’ intentions to shift towards veganism. The presentation of relevant information and examples of celebrities influence eating habits and increase their health consciousness. The mentioned study is also indicative of some features that characterise the interaction between celebrities and customers. It is emphasised that users’ altruistic intentions (to enhance the environment) are weaker than egoistic ones (to focus on one’s health) (Phua, Jin and Kim, 2019). The importance of user-generated content (UGC) is discussed by Phua, Jin and Kim (2020), who state that subjective norms and brand loyalty determine better attitudes to veganism on Instagram. Consequently, it becomes evident that marketing communication presents a favourable platform for attracting more consumers.

Table 2. Consumers’ Attitudes to Vegetarianism

Author / Date Sample Context Purpose Methods Findings
Avital et al.(2020) 1230 respondents Vegans, vegetarians and omnivores Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet Questionnaire More legumes, fruits, nuts and vegetables
Chwialkowska (2018) 71 participants Vegan diet Family role Interviews, food consumption diaries Socialisation to sustainable consumption
Grabs (2015) 4000 households Budget survey data Potential reduce in greenhouse gas emissions Statistical analysis 49% savings
Judge and Wilson (2019) 1,326 individuals Non-vegetarians’ attitude Motivational basis Structural equation model Attitudes to vegans are less positive than to vegetarians
Kim and Hall (2020) 476 responses Sustainable restaurant practices Consumer attitudes Online survey Hedonic /
utilitarian values
Kumar and Kapoor (2015) 282 households Vegetarians and non-vegetarians Consumers’
buying behaviours
Statistical analysis Consumers are more interested in vegetarian foods
Kumar and Kapoor (2017) 300 participants Food labelling Purchasing intentions Questionnaires Determining factors: residence, gender, age, food habit
Mann and Necula (2020) 3000 households Heavy meat eaters Discrepancy in meat consumption and vegetarianism Descriptive statistics Heavy eaters and vegetarians grow
Napoli and Ouschan (2020) 15 blogs Veganism Moral foundations Narrative inquiry analysis Sanctity of life,
freedom and authentic self
Ophélie (2016) 3 reports Veganism Nature of veganism’s tendencies Content analysis Vegan lifestyle is social and political activism
Pohjolainen, Vinnari and Jokinen (2015) 1890 participants Meat eating reduction Barriers to plant-based diet Questionnaire Low social status, education, cooking, etc.
Phua, Jin and Kim (2019) 303 participants Veganism attitudes Celebrity endorsers Online experiment Source credibility, health consciousness
Phua, Jin and Kim (2020) 582 participants Marketing communication Veganism on Instagram 2 experiments Higher credibility to brands
Ploll and Stern (2020) 556 responses Vegans and vegetarians Environmental consciousness Survey Stricter diet correlates with environmental protection
Soule and Sekhon (2019) 2 retailers Vegans and vegetarians Marketing communication Bivariate analysis Vegan brands – taste appeals
Teng and Wang (2015) 693 respondents Organic food labels Consumer trust and attitudes Questionnaire Labelling impacts purchasing intentions
Tosun and Yanar Gürce (2018) 448 comments Meat anti-consumption Consumer comments in web Content analysis Sustainability, health and cost concerns

Environmental Impact / Ethical Consumption

The analysis of the relevant evidence shows that technology and food consumption tendencies are closely intertwined, which creates the need to consider their mutual impact on consumer behaviours. For example, as one of the most spread technologies, social media is explored by scholar, including Facebook, Instagram and other global networks. In their article, Choudhary et al. (2019) provided 24 semi-structured interviews to analyse information on the cultural adaptation of users to sustainable food consumption. In the course of examining the views of three ethnicities (Indians, British Indians and White British residents), the authors came to the conclusion that all of them are affected by the appeals from social media. Along with these authors, the diffusion of information is noted as a powerful driver of a positive environmental impact (Raggiotto, Mason and Moretti, 2018). Within the process of acculturation, the integration with other ethnicities occurs, which stimulates further f sustainable food consumption behaviour.

Veganism is regarded as one of the contemporary food trends, the expansion of which is related to social movements. Even in Brazil, the country that leads in meat production, the raise of veganism becomes more and more pronounced, as found by Niederle and Schubert (2020). This article includes data from ten vegan restaurants, focusing on their key characteristics, such as an initial mission, price per meal, expansion plans and man identity. Accordingly, the identified authors revealed that as a social movement, veganism refers not only to reducing met consumption but also eating more organic food and local farmer products (Table 3) (Niederle and Schubert, 2020). This alignment between veganism and healthy nutrition provides promising efforts to establish sustainable food systems.

The investigation of consumers’ purchasing intentions is widely researched in terms of revealing their motivations and underlying factors. The article based on a questionnaire that was conducted by Principato, Secondi and Pratesi (2015) demonstrates that the motivators of meat avoidance include health problems and animal welfare anxieties. At the same time, price sensitivity is mentioned by the above authors and Malek, Umberger and Goddard (2019), who stress that many people prefer reducing pork and lamb consumption due to their expensiveness. Both of the above articles used questionnaires to collect the views of consumers. The overall common trend is that consumers are more willing to reduce meat eating rather than ceasing it Malek, Umberger and Goddard, 2019); Principato, Secondi and Pratesi, 2015). Based on their findings, the scholars recommend that to encourage more socially and environmentally sustainable eating, the diet with low meat consumption should be declared as the healthiest (Principato, Secondi and Pratesi, 2015). To emphasise such a diet’s benefits, policymakers and managers can refer to evidence-based sources that would improve the awareness of customers.

Discussing the actual consumption behaviour choices, Mancini, Marchini and Simeone (2017) claim that people with education pay more attention to purchasing healthy products. The analysis of ethical consumption attributes allowed the researchers to conclude that such consumers feel protected by food policies, trusting to recognised brands and better understanding the meaning of labels and reputation of retailers (Mancini, Marchini and Simeone, 2017). Although the number of such critical customers grows, there is a problem of a lack of the direct link between food consumption and environmental protection. Raggiotto, Mason and Moretti (2018) determine religion as an important promoting factor for Christians and Buddhists. Namely, the former were characterised as having the intrinsic religiosity, which makes them become more environment-oriented customers. As for Buddhists, the intrinsic nature of their religiosity also promotes predispositions to the environment since Buddhism implies the interdependence of everything in their world, with minimal presence of a person.

Food waste discussion among meat eaters and vegetarians should be deemed essential in terms of ethical consumption. As declared by McCarthy and Liu (2017), the difference in food waste was not significant among the mentioned consumers. It turned out that organic consumers, vegetarians, as well as heavy meat eaters waste food resources, depending on their personal intentions. It was surprising to discover that the so-called green consumers lacked knowledge about whether eatable food waste impacts the environment or not (McCarthy and Liu, 2017). In this regard, Principato, Secondi and Pratesi (2015) also confirm that education is critical for waste reduction, which is based on the analysis of youth consumers. Since the concerns about freshness raise waste, this is an ambiguous issue that requires further research.

While the majority of the articles that were reviewed in this paper point to the positive impacts of vegetarianism and veganism, there some sources that paradoxically reflect on some adverse influences. According to Leite, Dhont and Hodson (2019), vegetarianism threat anticipates the moral exclusion of animals for food, including pigs and cows. As for wild animals, human supremacy beliefs limit the concerns for environmental sustainability. In turn, Coderoni and Perito (2020) make a claim about the fact that technology and food neophobia negatively correlate with consumers’ purchasing intentions related to sustainability. The overall distrust to the labels of products and provided information serves as one more barrier to the spread of vegetarianism. Nevertheless, the products that contain data on the origins and nutritional values improve the likelihood of purchase.

Table 3. Environmental Impact / Ethical Consumption

Author / Date Sample Context Purpose Methods Findings
Choudhary et al.(2019) 24 respondents Social media Cultural adaptation Interviews Media promotes sustainable food consumption
Coderoni and Perito (2020) 477 consumers Social media consumers’ purchase intentions Questionnaire 56% want waste-to-value
(WTV) food
Leite, Dhont and Hodson (2019) 219 participants Vegetarianism Human supremacy beliefs Longitudinal study Moral exclusion of animals
Malek, Umberger and Goddard (2019) 369 consumers Meat eaters and avoiders Meat consumption changes Online questionnaire Overall reduction driven by env. consciousness
Mancini, Marchini and Simeone (2017) 12 participants Sustainable
consumption trends
Sustainable attributes Focus groups and survey Education: consumer attitude and behaviour
McCarthy and Liu (2017) 346 participants Food waste Green consumers’ attitudes Questionnaire Not significant differences between consumers
Niederle and Schubert (2020) 10 restaurants Vegan restaurants Ecological and social impact Field observation Contribution to sustainability
Principato, Secondi and Pratesi (2015) 253 respondents Waste reduction Youth behaviours Questionnaire Greater awareness of food waste consequences
Raggiotto, Mason and Moretti (2018) 842 consumers Religiosity, materialism and veganism Consumer environmental
Structural equation model Religious influxes work for Christians and Buddhists


Beginning with the review of the recent evidence on healthy nutrition trends, this narrative literature review focused on vegetarianism and veganism issues to understand how consumer behaviours change under the impact of contemporary factors. It was found that younger consumers, vegans and educated people are more likely to critically choose their food. Compared to meat eaters, vegetarians pay more attention to labelling, packaging and organic food. The topic of environmental impact was also discussed in terms of healthy eating and vegan / vegetarian consumer behaviours. It is deemed beneficial to provide recommendations for practising managers, policymakers and management education, as well as outline the areas fr future research.

Analysis and Critical Discussion

Implications for Practising Managers

Based on the results provided by Coary and Poor (2016) regarding how consumer-generated images shape their eating patterns, it can be recommended for managers to focus on the visionary appeals. By working more on anticipating consumers’ emotional responses to products, it is possible to positively impact their attitudes towards healthy nutrition. Brand attachment is another area to improve for managers and leaders of companies as it has great potential to stimulate sales through establishing trustful and open relationships (Guèvremont, 2019). The theory of planned behaviour can be applied by practitioners to better understanding the motivators of their specific customers.

To mainstream vegetarian and vegan ideologies as healthy eating options, managers can be suggested to employ a strategy of storytelling to become closer to consumers and their needs. Such a strategy is beneficial for addressing the existing negative attitudes towards these diets (Napoli and Ouschan, 2020). The appeal to family, moral and emotional motivators can be notes as one more promising strategy that is viable for managers to adopt (Chwialkowska, 2018; Judge and Wilson, 2019). Moreover, Kumar and Kapoor (2017) and Phua, Jin and Kim (2020) recommend practitioners to consider the product attributes that are most esteemed by consumers, which would promote greater adherence to the vegetarian diet.

The current state-of-the-art is that consumers compose several categories, depending on their age, experience, gender, traditions and personal attitudes. Speaking broadly, it is possible to enumerate heavy meat eaters, vegetarians, vegans and those who want to change their eating towards reducing or abandoning meat consumption. For practising managers, it is essential to be aware of all the mentioned categories to meet their needs since it would be erroneous to focus on one of them only (Mann and Necula, 2020). Through information, it seems to be useful to contribute to ethical consumption by initiating various campaigns in the context of corporate social responsibility. The provision of products with sustainable characteristics is the foundational strategy, the implementation of which would provide companies with a competitive advantage and loyal consumers.

Lessons Learned for Management Education

Management education is a broad area of research and practice that is expected to prepare knowledgeable specialists to work for modern companies, aligning their missions and goals with practical strategies. One of the main lessons for this category is considering healthy nutrition, involving veganism and vegetarianism, as a global action (Cadario and Chandon, 2020). Today’s world moves towards reducing overproduction and overconsumption, which is critical for public health and the environment. The understanding and detailed discussion of this trend should be put in the foundation of management education. However, it should also be taken into account that some consumers prefer eating meat, and their needs should not be underestimated (Tosun and Yanar Gürce, 2018). The behaviours of consumers are likely to be more diverse, and the key agenda of preparing managers is equipping them with different programs, strategies and instruments to meet such varied needs. In addition, it seems to be valuable to promote healthy nutrition by informing consumers of the role of fruits and vegetables, unprocessed foods and so on.

Suggestions for Policymakers

Currently, many consumers are confused by a variety of information regarding healthy eating since they are not able to make a distinction between credible and non-credible sources. Therefore, policymakers should become the source of the most reliable information to address this confusion (Chinea, Suárez and Hernández, 2020; Spiteri Cornish and Moraes, 2015). In their effort to increase healthy eating among the population, they should, first of all, ensure proper labelling and monitor advertising campaigns. As the actors who are responsible for public health, policymakers are expected to encourage the establishment and maintenance of healthy eating habits. By advocating for this important change, they should positively alter the attitudes of adolescent and adult consumers through educational or informational means (Chan, Prendergast and Ng, 2016; Verstuyf et al., 2016). It is also critical to improve the perceived ability of customers to practice healthy nutrition, paying attention to the major determinants of healthy eating behaviours.

When it comes to vegetarianism, policymakers should be clear on their role in health and environment, so that consumers can make informed and coherent decisions. The policies fostering families’ positive attitudes towards vegetarian food seem to be necessary for helping them to internalise healthy nutrition (Chwialkowska, 2018). Since families living in rural areas and those with lower social status and education are less likely to focus on meat consumption, there is a need for policies that would target these populations. The goal is to improve their awareness and address historical misperceptions regarding meat in terms of their socio-demographic status (Phua, Jin and Kim, 2020). The authors assume that more vegetarian options for eating at schools and public cafes can be a practical implication of their study.

The environmental awareness campaigns should be organised by global and local policymakers since the studies found that even green consumers, such as vegans and people sticking to organic food, have little knowledge about the role of food waste and packaging in environmental pollution (Coderoni and Perito, 2020; McCarthy and Liu, 2017). The impact of the ever-growing meat consumption is another topic that should be translated to consumers to encourage them to practising more sustainable purchasing activities (Niederle and Schubert, 2020). It can be assumed that the specific negative examples of food waste and excessive packaging, as well as heavy meat consumption impact lands, air and water. This information should be available to consumers, which is the accountability of policymakers.

Future Research Areas

The foremost research agenda in the field of healthy nutrition and vegetarianism (veganism) refers to verifying the results of the reviewed studies. Considering that they have some limitations, such as small sample sizes, narrow geographical coverage and may have biases, it should be stressed that future studies should provide more opportunities for generalisation and theoretical / practical value. The first area of further research is the differentiation between the consumption patterns of meat eaters and vegetarians / vegans. Only several studies targeted various categories of consumers, which limit the results and their generalised application to other contexts. Therefore, the differences in intentions and purchasing behaviours should be explored.

Another area for future research refers to considering various strategies to stimulate consumers’ purchasing intentions and planning their visits to stores. Although more and more people become aware of the importance of eating healthily, vegetarian lifestyles are still quite rare and perceived as something non-usual. Marketing communications, social media presence and other feasible channels to reach consumers should be researched to better understand how to approach consumer needs and contribute to sustainable food consumption.


The main goal of this narrative literature review was to explore the recent evidence on the subject of heathy nutrition and vegetarian lifestyles to provide implications for managers, policymakers and management education. To achieve this goal, the collected articles were sorted out in accordance with three streams, such as consumer behaviour regarding healthy nutrition, vegetarian / vegan trends and environmental impact of ethical food consumption. It was revealed that there is a steady growth of both vegetarian and meat reduction tendencies, but consumers often lack information and organic food options. These findings were received as a result of the thorough and comprehensive literature coverage as only high-quality, credible articles were gathered.

The main gap that was identified as a result of this literature review refers to the ways to make the decisions of consumers more informed. There are many articles that point to this need, but only some of them assume recommendations for practising managers or policymakers. Consequently, this gap should be explored by scholars and considered by managers. Another gap is the lack of an in-depth understanding of consumers’ purchasing intentions with regard to healthy eating and environmental consciousness. The limitations of this review involve small sample sizes of some articles along with their local nature. Therefore, further research should focus on cross-cultural studies to make more generalised conclusions and enable better awareness of how to approach consumers’ needs. Ultimately, one should suggest that future research should be carried out to create a wider vision of consumer behaviour change, monitoring and analysing its tendencies, challenges faced by consumers and potential areas to promote sustainable food consumption.

Learning Statement

This assignment allowed me to learn more about the state of veganism, vegetarianism and anti-meat consumption behaviours and calls across the countries. Beginning with a broader focus on healthy nutrition, I have discovered that there is a tendency towards ethical eating from both consumers and food retailers. However, much is to be done to increase awareness among the populations, which is important in terms of public health, environmental sustainability and ethics. In addition, I have improved my knowledge and skills regarding information synthesis and analysis, while also addressing several challenges.

In the course of working on this project, I have learnt how to approach the narrative literature review. Initially, this literature review caused a lot of anxiety as the feeling of overwhelming did not leave me for several days. Even though the instructions were clear and detailed, it seemed that this assignment is quite a complicated one. Indeed, by the very definition, the literature review implies including a set of articles and discussing them. A number one challenge I had is how to ensure that I collect the studies that would meet the requirements of a rigorous literature review. While using the Drive search engine, I have discovered that there are several options for sorting out information and accessing their full texts for detailed reading. Furthermore, it was required to verify that the journals selected are included in the ABS list, which also ensured to choosing high-quality sources. Ultimately, the review of the dull-texts allowed for checking the empirical nature of the studies, avoiding case studies and other descriptive articles. In other words, the guidance on searching for and selecting articles was useful for me.

Another challenge I had to experience is moving all the parts of the review to get it done effectively. It was difficult to capture the key topics and divide the sources into three streams. I was thinking a lot about preventing mere description of articles and their summary. I understood that discrepancies and inconsistencies in my review can lead to distorted results, which would potentially minimise the benefits of doing this literature review. This challenge was addressed by means of completing the tabular analysis, whose main advantage is the clear and consistent presentation of an article’s key information. It turned out that the literature has many common themes that promote considering vegetarian consumer behaviours from different perspectives. After the tabular analysis, I created a list of brief notes with references to make sure that I will pay attention to all of the areas of interest. Also, I tried to eliminate irritating factors and use my time effectively to prevent writing the assignment “within a couple of hours” before the deadline.

Reflecting on the implications of this literature review, I can state that the topic of ethical consumption through meat eating reduction is important in today’s world since the levels of consumption demand and environmental pollution increase. Therefore, for researchers and policymakers, it is critical to understand and anticipate consumer behaviour, thus preventing further negative impacts. Considering that health implications are also significant, this review can be useful for public health experts as well. This review highlights several strategies that can be taken into account by managers, who need to be aware of changing consumer behaviours to provide them with vegan products of the highest quality. It seems that contemporary mangers should be ready to respond to the global call for sustainable consumption. Last but not least, other students can also benefit from this paper that would help them in researching the gaps and inconsistences in the literature to pose new questions and promote further research.

After having completed this narrative literature review and looking back to my experience, I can suggest that I would read more papers that aim to review one or another subject. We were given several examples, but it would be better if I also searched the literature for more published articles using a similar format. The ways the authors applied in their works to compare, contrast and synthesise information would be advantageous for my critical thinking and academic writing skills and knowledge. Nevertheless, I believe that it was valuable experience and that my future literature reviews would be more elaborate. For this purpose, I would focus on the reflection activity results before starting a new assignment. It seems that by handling the feelings of being overwhelmed and replacing it with being passionate about research, it is possible to achieve greater outcomes and contribute more to both theory and practice.

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