Meat-free products are an exciting part of the ready meals and prepared foods category. With about one-quarter of consumers globally describing themselves as “flexitarian,” along with about 10% of consumers who are vegetarian – with a much higher percentage in India – and about 6% who are vegan, the meat substitutes market has a large potential audience. Add in the high proportion of consumers who enjoy exploring different types of food for even greater potential in the market for meat substitutes.
Trends in the Meat Substitutes Market
The plant-based meat substitutes market is still attracting significant attention in prepared foods. Over the past five years, Innova’s Top 10 Trends have clearly reflected this changing face of plant-based eating, from a trend to a revolution. Innova recently released a new report on global trends in the plant-based meat substitutes market that looks at generational differences in attitudes toward plant-based products. Younger consumers clearly view plant-based products favorably. Over 40% of Millennial and Generation Z survey respondents describe themselves as moderate or heavy users of plant-based meat alternatives. This means eating meat substitutes at least two to three times a week. Overall, one-third of consumers worldwide say their consumption of plant-based meat substitutes has increased over the past 12 months. Health is still the #1 driver behind the consumption of meat alternatives, with a widely held perception that meat-free products are healthier than or comparable to meat market products. Taste is now a close second to health as a driver to purchase, however. This suggests that the products offered to consumers are constantly improving and that many now prefer the taste experience of meat alternatives.
Prepared Food Trends in the Plant-Based Food Industry
Among plant-based innovation in prepared foods categories, pizza showed compound annual growth of 36% between 2018 and 2022, main dishes grew an average of 23% per year, and prepared pasta and noodles grew 20%. A review of plant-based meat substitutes in the Innova Database demonstrates the growing diversification of this marketplace. While launches of plant-based burger and sausage substitutes rose at double-digit CAGRs between 2018 and 2022, they were markedly outpaced by plant-based poultry substitutes and plant-based fish and seafood substitutes as the market responded to demands for more choice in animal-free foods.
Consumers Demand Plant Protein Products
Consumer demand for additional products in the meat substitutes market is driving innovation in plant-based protein technologies. Consumer research shows that ‘high in protein’ claims are the most desired health positionings in the meat alternatives market, with customers eager to maintain their protein intake despite shifting away from animal-based foods. Research into the preferred formats for meat substitutes demonstrates the sheer diversity of the category and consumers’ interest in trying new types of meat replacements. Plant-based burgers and patties are the top choice, followed by breaded products, finger foods, and meat snacks such as meat-free jerky.
Pea Protein is a Top Plant Protein
Approximately 10% of total ready meals and side dishes launches contained alternative plant-based proteins in 2022. While soy, vegetable, and wheat proteins are most widely used in the market for ready meals and side dishes, pea protein is emerging in new product activity in launches of plant-based prepared foods. It is available in many forms that can be used as meat substitutes.
Plant-Based Protein Offers Convenience
Convenience is an attractive feature for consumers so manufacturers are producing meat substitute versions of popular products such as mince, crumbles, ground, and pieces for use in homemade meals. The evolution of plant-based protein choices and technologies will continue. Work is also ongoing to develop more meat-like steaks and basic cuts. In prepared foods, expect an ongoing balance between plant-based alternatives to meat-based meals alongside dishes that find new ways to use existing meat substitutes, e.g., a plant-based pizza with meat-free pepperoni, a Bolognese without beef, or a no-prawn sandwich.
In all areas, balance will be key as consumer demands can differ—some flexitarians look for plant-based foods that deliver meaty taste experiences, while many vegetarians and vegans prefer vegetable-based foods that do not mimic meat. The meat substitutes market has room for a variety of products. Whatever the choice, it is evident that plant-based is here to stay and should be part of innovation decisions across all areas of food and drink.
This article is based on our report, “Trends in Meat Substitutes.”
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