27 May The 3 reasons why consumers crave meat analogues
Consumer demand for plant-based meat analogues is exploding
The plant-based protein market is predicted to grow from $18.5 billion in 2019 to $46.4 billion in 2023. It could be as large as $140 billion by 2029. The global meat analogues market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 7.9% in the coming years.
$13.3 billion USD was spent by consumers on meat analogues in 2018 alone. Though Australia is leading in terms of fastest growth in this space, Western Europe currently accounts for 35% retail purchases. North America accounts for 22%, and Asia for 20%. It is even the case for slower growing regions. For example, Latin America and the Middle East saw 7% and 4.6% CAGR between 2017 and 2019 respectively.
The days of meat analogues being products only for vegans and vegetarians are long gone
Everything from cultural change to health to environmental shifts have transformed diets around the world. 42% of consumers in the Asia Pacific region, 43% of North Americans’, 31% of South Americans’, and 25% of Europeans' experiment low-meat diets. They explore flexitarianism.
Indeed, data from Lightspeed/Mintel suggests that consumers are turning towards more plant-based and alternative protein products for health reasons. But what are the other major drivers of change? Throughout the America’s, health is the top concern. In Europe and Asia, lower priced calories (and avoid the high price of animal protein) is another important motivator. Meat-free diets are becoming a positive consumer choice, in line with “being fun, trendy, and cool.” Taste is also a top driver.
Meat analogues are often seen by flexitarians as “gateways” to a healthier lifestyle of reduced meat consumption
In a recent study, 49% of respondents say they’ve tried an alternative meat. Vegetarianism and veganism are also on the rise, with 2% of global consumers identifying as vegan, and 5% as vegetarian. Almost twice as many millennials in the U.S. eat meat alternatives as opposed to older generations. It is predicted to be a major driver of long term growth in plant protein consumption. The latter is estimated to average 12.5% over the next two decades.
High processing costs and the “premium” placement of many currently popular alternative might be a barrier to high levels of market penetrations in developing markets like Mexico and Brazil. However, there are very high levels of interest and adoption in Asia. Local conditions and cultural norms also play a role. For example, in India, nearly 40% of the population is vegetarian or vegan (largely for religious and cultural reasons). In the U.S. the figure is about 5.4% and in Brazil just 8%.
1. Motivated by Health
A growing consensus among health officials indicates that red meat, particularly fatty or highly processed, can do significant damage to human health. For example, concerns over health are prompting 74% of adult consumers in China to reduce their meat and dairy consumption.
On the other end of the spectrum, many individuals are simultaneously concerned they’re not consuming enough protein. They are looking to supplement the nutrient in their diet. 59% of adults in the UK say high-protein content is a primary part of their purchasing choice for alternative proteins. 32% say it’s a way to improve health. Among global consumers, about 27% report trying to eat more protein.
Younger consumers report being particularly interested in “high-protein” claims. More than one in three of Millennials are claiming to consume as much protein as possible. Protein intake is an important factor for weight management as well as for supporting exercise. Younger, health-conscious consumers are aware of the potential negative impacts of meat consumption. However, they still crave a relatively high level of protein. That’s why many consumers are seeking not just alternative foods, but meat analogues with high levels of protein in particular.
2. Consumers of tomorrow focused on sustainability
In addition to worrying about human health, modern eaters are also worried about the health of the planet. Research shows that in particular young consumers in Generation Z fear the effects of climate change more than anything else. Among U.S. consumers, 18% say that sustainability is the key issue driving their decision to buy meat and dairy alternatives. 61% say they’re willing to reduce their meat consumption (and 43% to increase consumption of plant-based alternatives) to limit that impact. Well beyond North America, many governments are reorienting nutrition recommendations around consuming less meat and more plants. The desire to reduce one’s individual carbon footprint, combined with the human health concerns, is one of the key reasons.
Consumers are clamoring sustainable foods, as well as those that are novel, authentic, and tasty. Thus, manufacturers are still struggling to perfect the taste, texture, and appearance of products developed from a wide range of ingredients.
There is a range of priorities among the groups interested in meat analogues. Some put a premium on visual and texture similarity to meat, some on novelty, some on lack of allergens and processing. Others focus on environmental impact and animal ethics. But which was far and away the most important factor consumers cite when seeking and buying plant-based meat? Taste leads the way.
3. Craving great taste in meat analogues 
Alternative meat products and brands move out of niche food markets and look to build widespread appeal. Now, the most significant barrier to building a mainstream audience continues to be taste (though texture, aroma, and appearance are also important).
68% of consumers say taste and flavor are the most important factors they consider when choosing plant-based products. Plus, 73% of American and Canadian consumers in one survey, and some 54% of consumers globally, agreed that plant-based alternatives should taste like meat.
Meat alternatives continue to be an intriguing option for curious consumers craving novelty. However, research shows that while consumers are willing to experiment with products that are unconventional, they have the greatest loyalty to the foods that had the best flavor. And the opportunity to capture an interested but unsatisfied audience is immense. Among a group of alternative protein eaters, only 18% reported that they eat alternatives because “they taste better” (though that number is as high as 44% among Gen Z consumers).
Overcoming the perception that plant-based meats do not taste good has been a long standing challenge. Cultural memes about “earthy-tasting” legumes, “cardboard-like” patties, and bland tofu are common. Though much innovation in the alternative meat space has come from leaps forward in making plant protein more like meat in its flavor, texture, and appearance, the challenge many formulators still face is that alternative high-protein sources. Particularly because the most widely available like soy, and newcomers like Chick pea and fava bean, often introduce off-flavors and colors.
Modern innovations in alternative proteins are helping formulators truly have it all
The off-notes that can accompany these proteins, including bitterness, “beany,” or “earthy” notes, or “cardboard-like” tastes and textures often require additives like salt or sugar to mask them (when they can be masked). This is disadvantageous to meat substitutes because of the high value these same target consumers put on nutritional aspects like clean labels and lack of processing.
But these preferences leave formulators in a double-bind. They can either prioritize reduced processing and few added ingredients, or prioritize great taste. This trade off is a thing of the past. Today, modern innovations in alternative proteins like yeast are helping formulators truly have it all.
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