Planting a Seed: Trends in Vegan Food Consumption | Characteristic

The explosion of plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy is one of the biggest trends of recent times. Growing interest in healthy eating, combined with constant innovation, is making the category less niche. PRS In Vivo’s Nicole Duckworth find out what this could mean for brands; with an additional contribution from Jay Whitney and Carine Guillou.

While the number of people actively trying to reduce animal products is growing, sales have stagnated for a number of individual brands. This indicates a mismatch between the desires of shoppers and the way these brands attempt to meet consumer needs.

  • Meat consumption is both cultural and complicated

Across Europe, different cultural and practical factors mean that we see significant differences in meat consumption between countries. For example, only 11% of Italians say they eat meat at every meal, while in the UK that number is double at 24%, with Germany and France somewhere in the middle.

However, the UK is also the country with the highest number of vegetarians/vegans (9%), and in fact France had the lowest number of meatless eaters (2%).

However, in these four countries, at least one in three actively reduce or seek to reduce their meat consumption. This demonstrates that there is a thriving market for meat-free products across Europe if brands can offer solutions in line with local behaviors and attitudes.

  • Why do people reduce animal products anyway?

There are a plethora of reasons why consumers begin to cut back on their meat consumption, but these decisions are not always as altruistic as portrayed. Traditional “old school” vegetarianism and veganism are considered to be primarily rooted in animal welfare.

It is true that people do not want animals to suffer, to be killed for their meat or raised in industrial conditions and are sometimes willing to avoid certain foods and vote with their wallets to discourage these practices. However, our data shows that while this is a factor for meat reducers, it is only a determining factor for 32% of them.

Alternatively, the environmental impact of the meat industry has come to the forefront of public consciousness over the past decade, and a new wave of meat reducers is driven not just by the health of the animals themselves, but by the planet they live on. Again though, our data shows that it’s a primary factor for 59% of meat reducers, which means that for almost half it’s not a primary factor.

  • Taste is the main obstacle to reducing meat consumption

First, not all plant-based meat alternatives are created equal, and that’s partly because not all animal meats are created equal. In particular, we see fish and even chicken perceived as “lesser evils” in European markets compared to red meat and pork. Consumers are less likely to look for alternatives to these products that taste the same.

Second, from a behavioral science perspective, presenting your product as a “beef alternative” (for example) psychologically tricks consumers into expecting a specific, familiar flavor. However, human beings are culturally and evolutionarily hard-wired to be wary of meat that “doesn’t quite taste good”, which means that accurately replicating the taste of meat is a very narrow target in a dangerous ” strange valley” of flavors.

  • Plant-based meals do not effectively meet consumer needs

More than just barriers around taste expectations, the biggest gap identified by consumers regarding the switch to plant-based foods appears to focus on the prospect of a truly indulgent eating experience. For meat reducers, one of the main draws to returning to meat is the “indulgent” occasions. This includes going out for a meal at a restaurant, where there are often more options for non-vegetarian meals, but it can also extend to cooking at home.

  • Standardization of vegetable options

The way plant-based products are currently presented to consumers does not match the way they actually use them, causing incongruity and making them less likely to find and buy these items.

Modern plant-based consumers are typically flexitarians, meaning they still eat meat but make semi-structured efforts to incorporate meatless meals into their diets and repertoire. However, in most European markets, plant-based products are often kept separate from animal-based options, either set aside in a fridge next to the meat, or in some cases relegated to far corners of the store.

Breaking the clear line between plant- and animal-based products to make them appear as equal and comparable options is something modern meat reducers are specifically asking for.

There are examples of brands making a deliberate effort to move from a ‘niche option’ to a more ‘for everyone’ mindset, and brands like Herta in France have invested in marketing certain of their products to suit vegetarians and omnivores. .

  • Where brands can go from here

Given the current trend of reducing meat consumption in European markets, brands and retailers must adapt to a reality where plant-based meats are no longer a niche alternative for a specific audience.

Buyer understanding: This potential shift in placement fundamentally changes how shoppers will navigate to these brands and potentially bring the products into the paths of more potential customers. Consider how well products will hold up if they no longer just compete with each other in the “vegetarian section” but head-to-head with animal products.

Packaging Rating: In this changing shelving context where animal and plant-based products can be compared in more direct comparisons, on-shelf communication on packaging and via point-of-sale materials is going to have to sing the lesson. product praise. Consider the kind of tangible, personally relevant benefits these plant-based products might have over animal-based products.

NDP Opportunities: If shoppers have to stand in a refrigerated or frozen aisle, directly comparing animal and plant products as they search for tonight’s indulgent dinner “star”, this opens up opportunities for new products designed and manufactured. to take on this challenge. Consider how effectively plant-based products are able to meet consumers’ diverse eating needs and occasions to beat the meat in the basket.

Nicole Duckworth is Head of European and Global Commercial Excellence at PRS In Vivo; Jay Whitney is senior insights manager and Carine Guillou is associate director

The study surveyed 5,003 people in the UK, France, Germany, Italy and the US. This was complemented by social listening and a series of ethnographic interviews