Meat reduction’s role in the plant-based movement is becoming more important, especially among younger consumers who aim to live healthier and more sustainable.
The plant-based movement is a firmly established trend within the global food and beverage industry, but in terms of direct meat substitution, there are now conflicting signs about continued prospects for success.
On one hand, innovators persist in exploring ways to emulate the taste and texture of meat. On the other hand, trailblazers within meat substitution are running into stagnating or declining sales, which raises the question about whether the category has possibly reached its zenith.
There are clear pros and cons surrounding meat substitution. Consumer interest in meat reduction remains high and direct replacement is a useful means to achieve this end. Competition for the plant-based dollar is intensifying, however, with an ongoing threat from plant foods that do not try to mimic meat.
The Meat Reduction Revolution
Innova’s consumer data shows that 44% of global consumers self-identify as flexitarian, pescatarian, vegetarian, or vegan. Younger consumers are more likely to be meat reducers compared to older generations, which supports a long-term shift away from regular meat.
There are regional differences in habits when it comes to meat consumption: in India, for example, religious and cultural beliefs drive high levels of meat reduction. The US, however, does not seem to share such a country-wide drive, with low levels of flexitarianism, but 1 in 10 consumers claiming to be vegetarian or vegan.
Selected markets are seeing meat avoidance translate into lower consumption data. For instance, the UK and Germany now show the lowest per capita figures since records began. Though this is not universal, as other markets are seeing flatter rates or even increases, revealing that a completely meat-free world is not quite in reach.
Direct Meat Replacement
Nearly three-quarters of global consumers say they consume meat alternatives at least a few times a year.
Health is still the number one reason to purchase meat replacements, as consumers look to meat substitutes to deliver familiar meals in a healthier way. However, price is a notable deterrent, while taste and texture are also an obstacle for many.
On the plus side, direct meat substitutes can represent a transitional step toward meat-free diets as progressively more traditional meat dishes are being offered in plant-based formats. This brings consumers the added convenience of direct replacement of familiar meals. Besides price and taste, consumers can also be put off by the highly processed nature of meat substitutes as the novelty is wearing off and shelves are more crowded.
Recalibration of Meat-Free Eating
When it comes to how to reduce meat, it seems that consumers are more likely to turn to alternative staples such as eggs and vegetables than they are to direct meat alternatives. In response, innovators are looking to offer vegetables in more convenient formats, such as vegetable burgers, fingers, or schnitzels.
Only 1 in 6 consumers named better mimicry of meat as an improvement they would make to meat alternatives. They are more likely to want new tech to focus on taste and nutrition aspects. Hiding meat alternatives in processed convenience foods is also increasingly popular, such as pies with chicken substitute or pizzas topped with meat-free pepperoni.
Naturally meat-free convenience foods are also capitalizing on meat reduction, such as vegetable curry or pasta dishes.
New Ways of Eating
Meat alternatives are extending their reach across all areas of the food industry. Although they remain most popular in the home, they over-index traditional meat for importance of on-the-go occasions. This development is being driven by young consumers, many of whom are shifting away from regular mealtimes and eating more often across the day. As the main target group for meat alternatives, it is no surprise that suppliers are targeting a wider range of occasions to satisfy the needs of the young, particularly for out-of-home and snacking occasions.
Choice is key, with direct meat substitution running parallel with more inherent plant-based options for on-the-go use. For example, NPD in plant-based meat snacks has gained ground, but there is also interest in superfood salads or vegetable-centered snacks.
Meat reduction is not going away, but reducers come in many guises, making variety essential in future development. Dietary variety is now the second largest reason for considering plant-based meat replacement options (after health). Almost two in five consumers have bought plant-based because more products are available. Increased sophistication of the products on offer will be important, meaning more foreign recipes, more varied and convenient formats, and more fish alternatives. Simultaneously, tech advance will boost quality as well as supporting sustainability of plant protein crops.
Meanwhile, sustainability messaging is expected to become more important as the link between meat and the climate crisis are cemented in the consumer consciousness.
This article is based on our report, “Global Meat Reduction: To Replace or Recalibrate?”
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