Rise of the flexitarian helping to shape European meat alternatives market

7 December 2021 — Recent surveys by Innova Market Insights suggests that the number of vegans and vegetarians is still very low in some major European markets. For example, in the UK it stands at just 3.5% and 8.9%, respectively. However, the picture is very different when it comes to flexitarians or meat reducers, with the number of consumers who class themselves as flexitarian now representing a significant proportion of the population: 30% in Germany and 23% in France to highlight just two countries. It is these flexitarians who are helping to propel the meat alternatives category into the mainstream, with companies eager to target these consumers with their latest products.

Plant-based term more appealing to flexitarians
To help attract meat reducers to products, companies are increasingly using the phrase “plant-based” on their on-pack messaging, rather than traditional terms such as vegan and vegetarian. In the 12 months ending Q2 2021, 20% of meat alternative NPD made a plant-based claim, with numbers increasing by 94% over the five-year period ending Q2 2021. This compares to an increase of 34% for vegan and -2% for vegetarian. Terms such as vegan and vegetarian tend to pigeonhole a consumer, while plant-based is more appealing to a wider consumer audience including meat eaters who are looking to include more variation in their diet. US company Beyond Meat, who have made it their mission to target meat eaters, prominently uses the plant-based term on its packaging, with vegan almost an after-thought and in much smaller print, as seen on its mince product launched in Germany in August of this year.

Health and ethics key reasons for consuming meat alternatives
There are two key reasons why consumers are choosing meat alternatives. On average, in the European markets surveyed by Innova Market Insights, around a third of consumers say they are typically consuming meat alternatives because it’s healthy. A similar number say it’s for environmental/ethical reasons. However, it is health that most companies have concentrated on in the past and it is only more recently that brands are turning their attention to the ethical side of consuming meat alternatives.

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Beyond Meat Beyond Mince Plant-Based Mince (Germany, Aug 2021), Cereal Bio Steaks Soja Et Ble: Organic Soy And Wheat Burgers (Belgium, Aug 2021), Next Level Meat Picado Vegano: Vegan Chop (Portugal, Jan 2021).

Protein content has been one of the main focus areas for companies wishing to market their products as healthy, and it is appealing to meat reducers looking for a high protein substitute. Front of pack messaging increasingly promotes if a product is high in protein, along with the amount of protein content. This trend is apparent right across the food industry. Nutrition & Santé’s Céréal Bio Steaks Soja Et Ble (organic soy and wheat burger), launched in Belgium in August, highlights prominently on the front of the pack that it’s rich in protein.

Growing focus on sustainability position of meat alternatives
Alongside health, consumers are also choosing alternatives because they’re seen to be more sustainable than meat. However, very few companies have focused much attention on this. Things are changing though, as awareness of the need to tackle climate change is increasing. One aspect of this is the amount of carbon dioxide produced in a product’s lifecycle and some companies are highlighting this in their marketing. Retailer Lidl’s Next Level vegan brand includes a “climate neutral” pledge on a number of its products, such as its mince launched in Portugal in January 2021, while Quorn UK (Monde Nissin) is introducing carbon footprint labeling on some of its best-selling lines.

“Meat, Fish & Egg Alternatives: Europe” is a new report from Innova Market Insights which brings together market sizes, company analysis and a review of new product trends and activity. It demonstrates just how the picture has been changing in this sector and signposts where future opportunities can be found.

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