“Consumers notions of what constitutes a good protein source are expanding to include a wider variety of plant-protein ingredients,” in part because they increasingly are associated with better health for people, animals and the planet, according to the consumer research firm’s Food Formulation and Ingredient Trends: Plant Proteins report published in February.
It cites research that found half of Americans now believe plants are the best source of protein and consumers increasingly want more non-meat protein-enriched foods, such as bagels and nondairy beverages.
This desire likely stems in part from consumers better understanding that plant-based proteins provide the same benefits as animal protein in terms of satiety, energy, building muscle mass and strength and helping promote weight management, the report notes.
In addition, consumers now know that eating plant proteins is a way to avoid saturated fat, cholesterol and allergic reactions to dairy and eggs.
Many consumers likely also are turning away from animal proteins as a way to avoid residues of antibiotics and hormones found in meat, the report suggests.
“Consumers demand for chicken, turkey, pork and beef raised without the routine use of antibiotics is growing rapidly,” and while it still accounts for only 5% of the meat sold in the US, a Consumer Reports survey found 86% of consumers though it should be available in supermarkets, the Packaged Facts report says.
In addition, chicken may be at a “tipping point” with sales of antibiotic-free chicken up 34% in 2013, according to the report. More recently on Feb. 26, Perdue announced it is moving its No Antibiotics Ever protein to mainstream grocery stores to better serve consumers who want this options. While these products will hit store shelves in February, they may not be enough to stop the drift to plant-based proteins.
“Change is coming to the meat and poultry industry to eliminate the routine use of antibiotics,” but it may not change quickly enough or could be too confusing to keep track of for some consumers, resulting in “a certain subset of consumers” choosing to “simply avoid meat and poultry for the time being and replace these protein sources with plants,” the report predicts.
Animal welfare concerns factor in decision
Animal welfare also increasingly is a reason that consumers are turning to plant-based alternatives. Especially as food-tech companies create more realistic meat analogues, consumers are struggling to justify a need for real animal protein, the report suggest.
It calls out the advancements of Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and The Herbivorous Butcher as examples of companies advancing the texture, taste and function of plant-based proteins to better position them as viable alternatives to meat.
These companies still must overcome significant challenges, including long ingredient lists with “unfamiliar and potentially lengthy names associated with disassembly and reassembling the building blocks of plant proteins,” the report notes.
Whether they can also sufficiently replicate meat’s flavor and texture to convince carnivores to choose them over animal protein remains to be seen, it adds.
Environmental benefits of plant-proteins
Environmental and economic sustainability concerns also are pushing more consumers towards plant-based proteins, Packaged Facts found.
It noted: “Growing recognition that meat production is resource-intense may be contributing to or the result of emerging consumer awareness of environmental and social responsibility considerations associated with food and beverage purchase decisions.”
Specifically, about two-thirds of Americans are interested in sustainable food options and the environmental impact of their food choices, the report notes.
In addition, a survey cited by Packaged Facts found 23% of consumers consider a sustainable diet to have a smaller impact on the environment and to be produced in a socially responsible way. About 13% consider it to be one that uses less natural resources in production, as is the case with plant-based proteins compared to animal proteins.
Finally, economic sustainability is an important influence for a significant portion of consumers ready for plant-based proteins, Packaged Facts found.
More than 47% of consumers younger than 39 agree somewhat or strongly that the lower cost of vegetarian protein is a factor in their use of it, compared to 44% of consumers 40 and older who said they strongly disagreed.
All these factors suggest, “on a global basis, alternative protein sources will grow faster than meat and seafood, which currently dominate but will begin to wane in coming decades,” the report concludes.