Flexitarianism is no fad, meat and dairy sector warned

By David Burrows

- Last updated on GMT

With animal-free products on the rise, meat and dairy industry urged to go on the marketing offensive ©iStock/DigitalZombie
With animal-free products on the rise, meat and dairy industry urged to go on the marketing offensive ©iStock/DigitalZombie

Related tags: vegan, flexitarian, Meat, Dairy, alternative protein

Social media sites like Instagram have fueled interest in veganism, according to a new report, but plant-based eating is not just a passing trend.

In its July 2018 consumer insights report, the UK’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), highlighted that only a “tiny minority”​ (2%) of the population is vegan and that 91% of British households purchase red meat.

However, veganism is attracting a “disproportionate amount of media attention”, ​wrote Susie Stannard, AHDB senior consumer insight analyst. “Correlation does not imply causation but it is undeniable that the platform [Instagram] has been used very effectively as a tool to share recipes and ideology.”

This is particularly true amongst younger shoppers, where veganism has “become a badge of identity or a tribal marker, much like identifying as other youth tribes such as ‘gym bro’ or ‘craft beer nerd’,” ​she suggested.

However, the concern for the meat and dairy sectors is that this is unlikely to be a fad, with several “anchor points”​ suggesting veganism and flexitarianism – which involves reduced meat consumption, often for health reasons – are here to stay.

Health, innovation and environment drive uptake

The desire to seek good health (even if, in AHDB’s words this is “misguided”​) has encouraged more and more people to seek out meat- and dairy-free options. Research by Kerry Group reported recently by FoodNavigator has shown 71% of consumers view proteins from plants to be healthier. Medical professionals are increasingly supporting plant-based eating, too.

Investment in alternatives is rising rapidly, which has improved the technological capability to produce meat- and dairy-free products that can attract traditional meat-eaters. Cellular technology is also a looming threat to traditional meat production – there are no products available to buy yet but it could help solve some serious problems​ – including the impact of livestock farming on the environment.

Concern about the environment is another anchor point – and one that AHDB suggested has been “exploited” ​by those promoting vegan diets.

Meat and dairy must respond

Regardless, all these factors working together points to a more lasting disruption, Stannard concluded. So, how can the meat and dairy industries respond?

Better marketing, for one, including more brand- and solution-led marketing. “The industry needs to look at new ways of marketing meat and dairy products, keeping meat and dairy relevant by seeking out real innovation and telling compelling stories to consumers,”​ Stannard wrote.

A more “balanced”​ debate on environmental impacts would also help; one that is removed from “ideology”​ and encompassing the impact of plant-based alternatives.

This could be a hard sell, given the ecological footprint of livestock farming.

Consumers’ views on health are perhaps less intractable. Stannard highlighted how hostility towards fat has softened over time, whilst the desire to eat high-protein diets could act as a counterpoint to some of the arguments put forward by the vegan community, she said.

All this won’t come cheap, but plant-based options are improving fast (in some cases backed by multi-million Euro deals with meat and dairy companies) and flexitarians are growing in number. “Investment in driving down environmental impacts, more ethical methods of production, and in paying close attention to product quality will cost more in the short term,”​ Stannard said. However, this could become “the price of entry”.

Related topics: Markets, Plant-based foods and beverages

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3 comments

Flexitarianism movement is real...

Posted by Arden Andersen, DO, MSPH, Ph.D,

Too bad Mr. Lawrence couldn't cite any biochemistry textbook for the claim that plant based proteins lack satisfactory amino acid profiles and are more difficult to digest. The biochemical facts are quite the opposite.Further, Esselstyne's research at Cleveland Clinic on reversing heart disease is ground breaking. There is not one epidemiological study showing that meat eaters live longer or healthier than vegetarians. The reams of studies by the 7th Day Adventist is a good place to start. An overview of centurion societies shows they eat very little meat. Okinawa is a good example. They are not vegans, but they eat very little meat, some seafood and mostly vegetables. As for gut issues, the Standard American Diet of heavy meat consumption has spurred the antacid and acid blocker industry, not plant based diets. In any event, the issue is that social media is spreading the word, consumers are voting daily with their dollars and even if they are not vegans, they are voting for organic, non-GMO, grass-fed animal products. Additionally, cultured meats will further tap into the standard beef, pork and chicken market with clean, hormone-free alternatives.

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Bad (no) science

Posted by Kevin Lawrence,

Plant proteins are NOT healthier! Can I say this any louder?! They cause serious damage to intestinal villae, don't digest well causing gas and bloating, have inferior amino acid profiles, are not arranged spatially like animal proteins, are seriously short in protein nutrition and as a food have little to no caloric density. When has the lijkes of Instagram determined the science of human nutrition? This is insideously INCORRECT people. Wake up!

And as far as damage to the earth - farming has destroyed every river delta on the planet, drastically changed and destroyed vast wetlands, and destroyed virtually all of the planet's topsoil. What is it you don't get? Your metabolism, gut and immune system don't care about food politics or being PC. All they know is what is correct for maximum health and energy and that isn't plant proteins. Sorry vegans, but it just isn't true, DNA and evolution have designed our intestinal tract, teeth, brains, etc and none of that was based on plant proteins. Wake up before you end up 50 years old with a ruined gut, immune system and health.

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Spend, spend, spend!

Posted by Chris,

You can spend as much as you want on marketing meat and dairy with "compelling stories" and get as many politicians to ban plant and lab products labelled as "meat" - and ridicule consumers by objecting to labelling on how the animals used in the real meat and dairy products were "farmed" (confuse shoppers!! - unbelievable!!) - and put "agricultural gags" (ag-gags) on reporters, farm, transport and slaughterhouse workers - but the abuse and cruelty in the meat/dairy industry will always continue - as will media exposure. Meat and dairy products will be replaced by plant and lab foods - no doubt - as the younger, socially conscious, better educated and more disconcerting about life generation - and their children - become more hostile to the appalling abuse of animals in the meat/dairy industry, the resultant ecological harm and see through the marketing "compelling stories" used to try and preserve a shameful industry.

Then the utterly appalling and shameful "religious rites" issue needs to be addressed.

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