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Plant-based and vegan generally mean the same thing: They indicate that something is made without the use of animal products. But the term “plant-based” is a newer phrase that consumers apparently find more appealing than “vegan,” which they are more likely to perceive as restrictive.

Food industry news site Food Navigator reports on the results of a survey of 1,163 American adults last summer that found they overwhelming vote “100 percent plant-based” as more flexible, better tasting, and healthier than “vegan.”

“Consumers tend to see plant-based as a positive dietary choice, whereas following a vegan diet is seen as a lifestyle associated with serious commitment, deprivation, and allegiance to a ‘cause’ that defines them,” said Barb Stuckey, president of food development firm Mattson, which conducted the survey, in a presentation to the Plant Based Food Innovation Summit. “‘Vegan’ is about deprivation, it’s about saying no, no, no.”

Part of the preference for the term plant-based may be the rise of “flexitarian” diets, Food Navigator speculates. A third of the respondents to the survey indicated they’re reducing the amount of meat in their diet but aren’t going completely vegan or vegetarian. That’s a big chunk of consumers, and are part of the reason even fast-food chains like White Castle have introduced plant-based meat substitutes. It’s no longer just the hardcore vegans who are choosing veggie patties; it could be anyone.

As plant-based foods expand their customer base beyond strictly vegans, they have some choices to make. Do they want to be seen as a replacement for meat for those who refuse to eat it, or just as a healthy alternative that’s appealing to meat-eaters and vegans alike? “Plant-based” may be the key to roping in both.

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