Nielsen: Meat remains 'formidable opponent' to plant-based alternatives

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

©GettyImages / NatashaPhoto
©GettyImages / NatashaPhoto

Related tags: flexitarian, Nielsen, Meat, plant-based

Flexitarians -- a concept that generally refers to consumers who are eating a more plant-based diet but still eat meat -- are ushering in a new area of protein consumption that is helping lift instead of hinder meat sales, according to Nielsen research.

Despite increased attention to plant-based eating and reduced meat consumption, just 5% of US households are vegan or vegetarian, according to Nielsen, leaving 95% of households as omnivores. 

"As well-intended as many recent diet fads may be, the protein landscape today and going forward will be defined more by the word 'and' than 'or',"​ said Nielsen. "Plant-based meat alternatives are not a passing fad, but scale takes time."

Additionally, nearly 60% of US consumers agree that having the right dietary balance of both animal and plant foods is important. Nielsen data also show that nearly all (98%) meat alternative buyers also purchase meat, and they do so more than the average meat buyer ($486 vs. $478 per year). Less than a third (27%) of meat alternative purchasers buy meat alternative products five or more times a year. Nielsen added that 21.6% of US households buy meat alternatives, up 1.6% from last year. 

"So if we define flexitarian as medium and heavy buyers of both meat and meat alternatives, they account for 37% of all meat alternative buyers and they spend $643 on meat every year—a whopping $165 more per year than the average meat buyer,"​ noted Nielsen. 

Interest in reduced meat consumption

However, the trend of reducing meat consumption and increasing meat alternatives into the diet is growing. A majority of consumers (62%) said they are willing to reduce meat consumption due to environmental concerns, and 43% say they would replace meat-based protein with plant-based protein.

"Interestingly, while not yet commercially viable, 12% of consumers stated they would be willing to eat cell-cultured meat grown in a lab,"​ added Nielsen. 

Meat still a formidable opponent to plant-based alternatives

While plant-based options are seeing strong market success fitting into many different consumers diets, "meat is formidable and resilient—due in part to its relative affordability. Chicken, pork and turkey cost the least per gram, at 2 cents, well below the 10 cents for meat alternatives, 13 cents for nuts and 20 cents for nutrition bars,"​ noted Nielsen.

Aside from cost savings, meat's sheer industry scale means it will be holding out as a top protein for a while. According Nielsen, sales of meat reached over $95bn last year, compared to meat alternatives are just short of crossing the $1bn mark. 

"Convenience is also a positive for meat, as the deli department remains a powerful and reliable growth engine, creating convenient and quick meal solutions for consumers. And while meat from the deli department represents only 17% of total meat sales, it represents 31% of US dollar growth within meat overall."

Protein - A lasting trend that will take different forms

Accounting for nearly $190bn in US sales across the store, protein -- and its various forms -- will remain top of mind for many consumers, according to Nielsen. 

The market intelligence firm's advice to brand and retailers is to continue to offer a innovative and diverse set of protein offerings in order to win consumers' protein purchases. 

Related news

Show more

Related products

show more

REAL Eggs Integral Role in Baking White Paper

REAL Eggs Integral Role in Baking White Paper

American Egg Board | 06-Oct-2019 | Technical / White Paper

By enhancing ingredient statements, REAL Eggs contribute to gold standard quality. In a world where consumer expectations evolve at sometimes dizzying...

Color plus clean labels from a proven ingredient

Color plus clean labels from a proven ingredient

Briess Malt & Ingredients Co. | 06-Sep-2019 | Product Presentation

BriesSpecialty™ Malt Flours offer natural color and flavor adjustment for cookies, breads, and other grain-based foods. Ranging in color from light to...

Plant-based meat alternatives market motivators

Plant-based meat alternatives market motivators

DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences | 01-Apr-2019 | Technical / White Paper

Market analysis shows steady growth in the plant-based meat alternatives segment over the past few years as consumers eat more plant-based foods. The reason...

Related suppliers


Post your comment

We will not publish your email address on the website

These comments have not been moderated. You are encouraged to participate with comments that are relevant to our news stories. You should not post comments that are abusive, threatening, defamatory, misleading or invasive of privacy. For the full terms and conditions for commenting see clause 7 of our Terms and Conditions ‘Participating in Online Communities’. These terms may be updated from time to time, so please read them before posting a comment. Any comment that violates these terms may be removed in its entirety as we do not edit comments. If you wish to complain about a comment please use the "REPORT ABUSE" button or contact the editors.

Follow us

Featured Events

View more


View more