Meat alternatives gain popularity among non-vegetarians in US

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 21st August 2013

More than one third of US consumers eat meat alternatives, but only a fraction are actually vegetarians, according to global market research organisation Mintel.

Only 7 per cent of US consumers identified themselves as vegetarian, but 36 per cent indicated the use of meat alternatives, according to Mintel. What’s more, Mintel’s findings showed that less than half of consumers who used meat alternatives were using the products in place of real meat, and 16 per cent indicated using the products alongside meat offerings.

“This data suggests that participation in the alternative meat category stretches far beyond necessity, and creates an opportunity for future growth based on the products’ ability to meet general consumer food interests, such as health, price, variety and convenience,” said Beth Bloom, Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel. “The bottom line is that vegetarians and vegans aren’t the only people eating “fake” meat. Meat eaters are also exporing this new found protein superpower,” she said.

Role of health perception in meat alternatives

According to Mintel, one third of consumers indicated using alternative meat products because they were ‘healthy’, higher than any other reason measured in the report. The findings also showed that more than half (51 per cent) of users of alternative meat believed the products were healthier than real meat. In addition, some 31 per cent said they were trying to reduce their meat consumption and another 31 per cent said they enjoyed the taste of meat alternatives.

“While meat alternatives have the potential to meet a range of consumer needs, targeted health positioning has the potential to attract the specific attention of consumers,” Ms Bloom said.

Vegan claims surpassed vegetarian claims

Vegan claims on new products released in the meat alternative category surpassed vegetarian claims in 2011 to take the top spot, according to Mintel. This, combined with the fact that the “no animal ingredients” claim saw the strongest growth from 2008-12 (200 per cent), was an indication that “consumers are becoming more extreme in their dietary habits”, according to Mintel.

The next leading claim to see strong growth is ‘GMO free’ (155 per cent growth, 2008-12). Given the interest in health among consumers of meat alternatives, Mintel said that “products that can present a clean profile will be best positioned to attract the attention of shoppers”.

Not everyone jumping on the “meat-free bandwagon”

Despite the increase in popularity of meat alternatives, Mintel found that  the greatest percentage of nonusers (67 per cent) indicated a preference for real meat, and 34 per cent say they did not care for the taste of meat alternatives, while 20 per cent said they did not like the texture.

“While, at one time, products in the category were seen as a substitute for meat consumption, the expansion of formats and flavors has allowed the category to grow beyond one of necessity to become one of desire,” Ms Bloom said. “Product manufacturers and marketers have a chance to come out from behind the veil of “substitute” and stake a claim as a food option that stands on its own,” she said.

More non-vegetarian US consumers are adding meat alternatives to their diet, like this pork and tofu dish