Getting to the Meat of it – Why Consumers are Choosing Plant-Based Substitutes
Research conducted by Catalyst, the social & environmental research program, investigates the growth of environmentally friendlier plant-based meat substitutes amongst UK, US and Australian consumers.
It’s fair to say that the “plant-based meat alternative” section at the supermarket has a lot more real estate now than it did a decade ago. The same goes for its pride of place on restaurant menus.
The general population has become increasingly aware of the negative impact meat production and consumption is having on the environment and the considerations for personal health. As a result of this growing concern and with the help of innovative new food technologies, meat alternatives are becoming prominent in supermarkets, restaurants and fast-food joints around the world.
So, is this increased availability spurring changes in behaviour? And what are the drivers and barriers to consumption of plant-based meat alternatives? We have decided to interview a representative sample of consumers across Australia, UK and America in order to provide this burgeoning industry with a solid understanding of drivers of demand and what the current barriers are to further consumption.
Key take-outs include:
- Eating for the environment
Environmental concerns are the number one reason for consumers in UK and Australia to purchase plant-based meat products. Health and nutrition is the number one factor for US consumption. Across the three markets, 60% of all survey respondents believe that you can reduce the burden on the planet through food choices.
2. Trial is strong
Growth in trial of plant-based meat shows no sign of slowing. One in five survey respondents have tried plant-based meat for the first time in the past 6 months.
3. Appeal is mainstream
The demand for plant-based products is no longer confined to vegetarians and vegans. More than half of all consumers have tried plant-based meat products across UK, USA, and Australia, despite only 12% identifying as vegetarian or vegan and one in five as flexitarians.
4. The young and wealthy are driving demand
Sales of plant-based meat are largely being driven by younger generations and those with higher household income. As price disparity between meat and plant-based meat lessens due to technological advancements and economies of scale, the uptake of plant-based meat is likely to increase dramatically, potentially becoming cheaper as well as having a lower environmental impact.
What’s currently on our plates?
Meat retains pride of place on the plates of Americans, with Brits being the most likely to opt for a meat-free meal on a regular basis. Across every market though, one in three consumers is consciously trying to reduce their meat intake.
The majority of Aussies agree that consuming animal products has an impact on the environment (especially younger generations). In Australia, only 15% of Baby Boomers indicate they are choosing to reduce meat consumption more now than a year ago, compared to more than double this for both Gen Z and Millennials. In all three markets Gen Z and Millennials are the most likely to be reducing their meat consumption.
Brits are increasingly on-board with choosing plant-based meat alternatives. The US, on the other hand, is the biggest consumer of ‘meaty meals’ – 4 in 10 Americans indicate that animal products are present in 90% or more of their meals.
Looking across all three markets of US, UK and Australia, those living in the city are more likely to be reducing their meat consumption than those out in the countryside, compared with a year ago.
The research also indicates that people with higher incomes are more likely to be cutting down on their meat consumption, compared with households earning less than $75,000 per year, likely because they can afford to as plant-based alternatives are currently more expensive in most formats than real meat.
Trial is on the rise, driven by the young
The UK is leading the way when it comes to trialling plant-based meat products, with two in three Brits claiming to have tried it. This is 9 percentage points higher than the number of Americans and 14 percentage points ahead of Australia.
It may come as no surprise that across the board, younger generations are driving plant-based meat trial, with Baby Boomers being least likely to have given it a go. In Australia alone, 60% of consumers aged 18-44 have tried plant-based meat at least once, compared to only 40% of Baby Boomers.
In the UK, Millennials are particularly fond of plant-based meat products, with three in four having tried it. Combine this with strong trial amongst higher income households and this suggests that as prices fall we might see a quick and sustained increase in plant-based meat consumption among young people, as one of the main limiting factors right now seems to be price.
When it comes to browsing the plant-based meat section of the supermarket, Aussies and Brits are opting for burgers, sausages and mince above all else. Americans are much keener on their burgers specifically, with 39% of US consumers who have tried plant-based meat, buying burgers monthly or more often. Australians’ consumption of plant-based schnitzels more than doubles that of both the US and the UK.
Growth drivers and barriers
The drivers of demand for plant-based meat vary greatly, depending where you live. For instance, Brits are overwhelmingly driven by concerns for the environment and animal welfare, and Australia echoes these sentiments but at slightly lower levels.
US consumers, on the other hand, are driven by their own health and nutrition. Three in ten Americans who have tried plant-based meat cite that it’s healthier and more nutritious than eating regular meat. Animal welfare is a significantly lower driver of demand in the US.
As for barriers to the growth of plant-based meat consumption, two factors take the limelight – taste and price. These barriers are considered of equal importance by Australian and US consumers, but taste is a more prominent concern in the UK.
It will be interesting to assess if this diminishes with higher penetration of more meat-like products such as Impossible Foods ‘bleeding’ burger which is yet to launch in the UK, but is available in Australia and the US.
It is clear that all major manufacturers are striving to ensure taste parity with meat products to ensure they are catering to the broadest possible market, as highlighted by Jeremy Attinger, Category Manager at leading Australian plant-based meat manufacturer v2foods:
“v2 is heavily invested in ensuring our plant-based products are indisputably delicious so that consumers are not needing to make any sacrifice on taste in order to do the right thing by themselves and the planet”
Price is a consumer concern that should right itself in the short to medium term. Price has been a category barrier with many products launching with significant price premiums, but this is likely to reduce soon according to Triple Pundit, as greater demand, technology enhancements and economies of scale bring down the cost of production.
Coming back for more
Across all markets, around three in four respondents found plant-based meat to either meet or exceed their expectations. Only one in ten claimed they found plant-based meat products awful and less than 20% expressed some disappointment.
Based on these favourable first impressions, the numbers suggest that consumers are happy to incorporate plant-based meats into their diets moving forward. Almost half of all Brits are already buying plant-based meats regularly, with Australia and the US not far behind (37% and 35% respectively). This trend is backed by other recent research, too. According to a recent Neilsen IQ report, the plant-based protein category has grown 13% in the US over a 2-year period, with pea and flaxseed protein having grown the most (38% and 20%). 45% of this growth was attributed to new brands, indicating a strong emerging industry for producing plant-based meat alternatives.
It’s worth noting that purchase is primarily for home consumption driven by increasingly prominent supermarket distribution – 87% of people in the UK, and 77% in both Australia and the US are buying from supermarkets.
Younger generations are the most likely to be ordering plant-based meals from restaurants (either as takeout or dining in).
Purchase of plant-based meats at fast-food restaurants is higher in Australia than in any other market, with nearly four in ten consumers having ordered meat substitutes there. This is likely to reflect the high profile launch of brands like the Impossible Burger in Australia via fast-food and quick service restaurants before becoming available in supermarkets.
What does the future look like for plant-based meats?
The plant-based meat category looks set for strong continued growth. A shift to reducing meat consumption aligned with the fact that there is clear trial appeal, indicates that consumers will continue to integrate plant-based meats as one element of their dietary regimes.
This is further supported by the fact that consumers already rate plant based meat brands very highly when considering their social and environmental credentials, as measured by Glow’s Social Responsibility Score (SRS) metric. For example, two of the the top 10 most highly rated brands in Australia are plant-based meat brands. This is important given two in three consumers indicate that ESG considerations influence their purchase decisions.
The opportunity for accelerated growth remains in addressing the two clear barriers to ongoing consumption – price and taste.
Whilst price barriers look set to diminish as the category scales and technology evolves, taste is a greater challenge, but one that industry leaders are addressing head on through new ingredients, processes and formats.
Irrespective of the scale of growth, one thing is certain; this is a category driven by manufacturers with purpose and passion whose efforts to help us all eat better are just getting started. As Jeremy from v2foods states
“…if we are going to have a major impact in reducing CO2 emissions and ensuring our food system is sustainable – exactly what v2food was founded to do – then we need to reach scale with mainstream shoppers, not just vegans. This means not just achieving parity of taste and texture with animal proteins, but also achieving parity or better with price. Hopefully the question for consumers will become “it tastes the same and is cheaper, why wouldn’t I switch?” rather than “why should I?”
By Eddie Kowalski
Catalyst Program Director
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Catalyst is an open-source research program investigating consumer concerns about social and environmental issues. The program is building a body of knowledge to fuel conversation, action and behavior change by supporting businesses with insights that fuel their own programs of action.
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Glow is a proud partner and research technology provider to the Catalyst program. Special thanks to Cint for providing the sample on which the research is based and to our other partner brands including: