The meat-alternatives trend is heating up in 2021. A few years ago, vegans and vegetarians were the only people thought to enjoy veggie burgers. Today, the plant-based trend is driven by Americans looking to eat meat in moderation. Instead of ditching meat entirely, consumers are integrating plant-based options between their beef and chicken.
There has been a cultural push to consume less meat. Starting in 2003, the trend of “Meatless Mondays” took off through media mentions, advocacy groups, and word-of-mouth. According to the campaign, 42% of Americans were aware of Meatless Monday in 2019. Of those aware, 35% say the campaign influenced their decision to at least consider cutting back on meat.
Plant-based meat is no longer a niche trend. Meatless options are appearing alongside the real thing at grocery stores rather than tucked away in the vegetarian section.
In early 2021, 10% of Americans reported purchasing plant-based burgers, meat, or sausages within the previous 3 months. But 71% of plant-based buyers also bought meat, and only 16% of these purchasers follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. Of these consumers enjoying plant and animal-based meats, less than a third say they’re the first to try new trends, indicating these users are interested in these products beyond their novelty.
This is our plant-based meat industry analysis.
Consumers purchasing plant-based meat are more likely to be under 40 when compared to conventional meat-eaters. They’re also more likely to be female. These consumers have higher incomes, which makes sense considering plant-based meat’s higher price tag.
There are a few reasons consumers are choosing to eat plant-based over animal-based meat. In this report, we’re looking at sustainability and health benefits.
Producing and raising meat takes a lot of energy and a toll on natural resources. Widespread knowledge of the unsustainability of mass-produced meat is driving the trend to eat less of it. 87% of plant and animal-based meat eaters believe that plant-based meat alternatives are better for the environment. Plant-based meat consumers are also more eco-minded than the average person.
Sustainability is the top need state among American consumers. 69% of the general population fall in the sustainability need state meaning they have adopted some eco-minded attitudes or behaviors. Eating plant-based is an attractive option to those seeking sustainability, as producing plant-based meats takes less resources than traditional meat. Plant-based meat brands market their sustainability compared to meat.
Impossible Foods includes this description with its product:
Eating too much meat is linked to many negative health outcomes. Red meat especially is high in saturated fat, which can cause high cholesterol. Meat is a good source of protein, but plant-based alternatives offer a similar nutritional profile with fewer calories. Sometimes they offer additional added nutrients too. 83% of plant and animal-based meat eaters believe that plant-based meat alternatives are better for their health. Plant-based meat consumers are more health-conscious than the average:
Eating plant-based meat for health reasons plays into the wider trend of food as fuel. It’s the belief that people can improve themselves through eating better. 65% of Americans agree functional foods can be substituted for medicine, and that goes up to 77% when looking at plant-based meat shoppers. These shoppers are looking to minimize the unhealthy ingredients they eat, as they are more likely to look for foods with low sodium, sugar, and fat.
While alternative meat is not exactly a functional food, it’s marketed as low in calories, fat, and cholesterol. It serves the function of being meat-like without the perceived negative health consequences of eating conventional meat. Plant-based meat shoppers look to supplement their diet and are more likely to use vitamins than the average American. They are also more likely to exercise regularly. Taking part in these preventative health practices aligns with their higher likelihood of believing functional foods can be medicine.
Innovation in meat alternatives has made it taste and look like the real thing, making it easier than ever to make the switch. Consumers no longer need to learn how to cook and season tofu to take part in the sustainability of plant-based eating.
Plant-based burgers have come a long way in the last few decades. Veggie burgers have existed in grocery stores since the 1970s with brands like Lightlife and Morning Star Farms. New entrants into the space in the early 2010’s—like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat—raised the bar with realistic, grill-able veggie burgers. Now, they’re not called “veggie patties,” they’re burgers made from plants that taste, cook, smell, and feel like the real thing.
Though meat producers once scoffed at plant-based meat, they have jumped on the trend. Some launched plant-based brands in the US. Hormel launched Happy Little Plants and Tyson launched Raised & Rooted. Other meat producers are testing plant-based concepts abroad—like Cargill’s PlantEver in China.
Conagra Brands has taken an integrated approach, incorporating its own plant-based brand, Gardein, into its other brands—like Marie Callender’s and Healthy Choice. Even more creative is Perdue Chicken Plus. The famous chicken brand sells its nuggets with added vegetables, perfect for both plant and animal-based meat shoppers.
Alternative beef and chicken have been the norm, but innovative options have brought variety to the plant-based category. Consumers can enjoy everything from plant-based ham to drumstick off the “bone.” Even a meat-free ribeye steak could appear at your plant-based table.
There are thousands of options available—including jackfruit, tofu, and texturized vegetable protein (TVP). Though ingredients like these are used in plant-based meat lookalikes, some brands choose to market the meatless ingredients themselves.
Jackfruit and mushrooms are popular plant-based proteins, as they naturally mimic meat. The “meat” is not made, but instead shredded and flavored. Seitan is another meatless product that is naturally chewy and easily flavored.
These current plant-based meat trends suggest the market will only continue to gain popularity as consumers look to fulfill their need for sustainable foods and improved health. Comparable plant-based options for nearly every meat have made it easier than ever to switch away from meat—if consumers have the money to do so.
More options mean more competition. Understanding that the plant-based meat shopper isn’t strictly vegetarian is the first step. Knowing why shoppers choose one plant-based option over another will be a key to success.
10% of Americans bought plant-based meat in the last 3 months. It's no longer a niche trend for vegans and vegetarians.
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