- The top reason why consumers decided to eat plant-based meat alternatives is because they like to try new foods, according to a survey by the International Food Information Council. In the study, done last month with 1,000 interviews of U.S. adults, 41% gave this response, while 30% said they were curious after hearing a lot about them, 27% said they were trying to eat less meat, and 27% thought it was better for the environment.
- Nearly half of respondents said they had tried a plant alternative to meat. They gave several reasons they enjoyed it, but the top three were the taste (53%), meat-like texture (35%), and the fact that it tasted like meat (34%). Four out of 10 said there was nothing they didn't like about the plant-based alternative, and 31% said they found its texture was not similar to meat.
- When comparing Nutrition Facts labels, 45% of respondents believed plant-based alternative protein was healthier than animal meat, while 25% believed the plant alternative to be unhealthier.
As the plant-based protein market grows, more consumers are giving alternatives a try. The more companies know about the reasons consumers are willing to switch to plant-based, the easier it is to pull in more shoppers.
More than environmental or health concerns, consumers were most interested in eating plant-based meats because it is something new and they are curious. That curiosity could bode well for companies that can deliver on results once consumers taste the products.
As plant-based protein shelves get increasingly crowded, more companies will likely need to focus on drawing attention to their products and then delivering on taste and texture once they give them a try. That will be challenging since more companies are launching new products into the space and acquiring alternative protein brands. And growth is not expected to slow. Investment firm UBS projects the plant-based protein and meat alternatives market will increase from $4.6 billion in 2018 to $85 billion in 2030.
From alternative burgers to faux chicken nuggets, plant-based giants like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are competing for market share with more traditional companies like Nestlé, Tyson Foods and Conagra. Some competitors are attacking one another to get ahead in the areas consumers enjoy most about their products. Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown told Food Dive last year that competitors' products "tend to suck," though others in the space have refused to attack, saying their true competition is the meat industry.
The consumers surveyed also largely believe plant-based alternatives are healthier than meat. And though the meat industry has long implored consumers to look at the relatively long list of ingredients on plant-based products, 45% of consumers responding to this survey looked at the Nutrition Facts label and affirmed their health beliefs about plant-based meat. This isn't the first survey to come to that conclusion. A recent study from DuPont Nutrition & Health found 52% of U.S. consumers are eating more plant-based foods because it makes them feel healthier.
But not all dietitians agree plant-based alternatives are healthier than meat, saying that the amounts of sodium and saturated fat in plant-based burgers can be about the same as those made of beef. As brands compete for shelf space, emphasizing health benefits and nutritional profile could be helpful to attract consumers' attention. A Kerry White Paper found that taste, nutritional profile, clean-label ingredients and protein content are barriers that continue to present a challenge for plant-based producers looking for wider adoption of their products.
The survey also gave clues for plant-based meat providers to get the 51% of consumers who have yet to taste their products to give them a try. About a third of those who haven't tried the products (31%) said they didn't think the meat alternatives would taste good. A fifth had no specific reason, while the lengthy ingredients list only kept 13% from trying them.
Overall, with consumers pushing for both healthier and more sustainable diets, this space seems to be primed for continued growth. In 2018 alone, $673 million was invested into plant-based meat, egg and dairy companies, according to The Good Food Institute. As more money seeps into the space, putting it toward making plant-based protein stand out in stores for curious consumers and investing in R&D so its nutritional profile, taste and texture beat out the competition could be an investment for the future.