- Four in 10 adults aren't sure whether a sustainable diet is the same as an environmentally sustainable one, according to a study by the International Food Information Council Foundation. Still, two-thirds agreed that an environmentally sustainable diet can include protein from both animal and plant-based sources.
- The survey, conducted through interviews with 1,000 people earlier this summer, also revealed 92% of respondents consume animal-based protein, yet 72% eat plant-based protein. More than one-quarter said eating in a healthier and more environmentally sustainable way means consuming more protein from plants.
- When asked to define what environmentally sustainable animal protein means to them, the IFIC survey found half of all respondents cited no added hormones, while 40% said grass-fed animals and 32% mentioned locally raised.
The IFIC Foundation survey shows a large number of consumers are confused about what sustainability means when it comes to diet and the environment. However, many of them seem to believe they can get closer to sustainability goals if they eat more plant-based foods — despite nearly all of them being carnivores.
This survey seems to bolster the marketing approach plant-based food brands such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have taken since launching their products. Impossible Foods COO David Lee told Food Navigator last year a survey the company commissioned in late 2017 found about 70% of those buying its Impossible Burger "are regular meat eaters."
Consequently, plant-based food and beverage manufacturers have focused on making their products competitive with conventional meat-based items when it comes to flavor and price. It can be difficult — if not insurmountable — to get carnivores and flexitarians to even try plant-based proteins if they don't remotely taste, look or function like the real thing.
While some education may still need to be done, manufacturers of plant-based products could use the IFIC survey to boost sales by emphasizing their lower environmental footprint and use less packaging with more recyclable materials. Survey respondents said those elements of an environmentally sustainable diet were most important to them.
Makers of animal-based products could tout the reasons why consumers choose to consume their protein sources. According to the IFIC survey, the main reasons were taste, convenience, knowing how to cook it, wide availability and affordability, in that order.
When it comes to demographics, the IFIC survey found 80% of consumers with a college education eat plant-based foods, while just 66% of those without one do so. This may be because colleges and universities have increasingly offered vegan and vegetarian menu options in order to save money. If students get used to eating that way, they may continue the habit later on.
That might help to explain why a recent study showed 64% of millennials are making an effort to eat more plant-based foods. The same study also found more than 60% are aware of environmental effects from their food choices and are doing what they can to reduce impact.
Eating less meat is cited as a major step consumers can take to limit the effects of climate change, so plant-based food makers might want to advertise that asset more broadly to those without a college degree and anybody else likely to respond by buying more meatless protein products.