"The first thing to note is that consumers aren’t completely cutting out meat and animal products," said Tom Rees, industry manager at Euromonitor during the market intelligence firm's recent Strategic Themes in Food and Nutrition webinar. Looking at US trends, less than 5% of the population is vegetarian, while approximately 16% are trying to limit their meat intake, according to Euromonitor.
In the US, retail sales volume of meat is expected to register around 1% CAGR between 2018 and 2023.
"The global population of vegetarians hasn’t grown by more than 1% since 2010 annually. What’s really going on in developed nations is that there’s a growth of meat reduction, not meat avoidance," said Rees.
Permissibility for consuming certain animal products can be seen in a growing trend of eating less processed meat but more animal welfare-focused meat and dairy products classified under specific claims and certifications such as free range and organic.
"It is meat, but it is addressing some of the issues that are driving consumers’ reduction of meat," said Rees.
Commenting on cell-cultured meat, Euromonitor noted that this market has significant regulatory and consumer acceptance hurdles to overcome.
But he added: "It’s important to note that advocates really do think that it will cut humans’ environmental impact significantly through land use, through CO2, will address animal treatment, and will improve food safety because it will stop the possibility of cross contamination and it will also eliminate things like abattoirs from the process," said Rees.
Is plant-based eating in a 'honeymoon phase'?
Plant-based meat analogues including brands such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are "perhaps the clearest example" of the plant-based protein alternative trend and will remain a growing category branching off into new alternative products, predicts Euromonitor.
"We expect fish and seafood to undergo a similar transition," said Rees, who noted that plant-based meat alternatives will likely remain an important consumer trend for the next decade, but may taper as new food and beverage trends emerge.
"We should remember though that at this point many of alternative protein products are in a honeymoon period. They’re seen as healthier or better for the planet, simply because they’re not what they are replacing (i.e. meat and dairy)," Rees noted.
"We will continue to see differentiation on the basis of being more 'natural' come to the fore (since many plant-based alternatives are highly processed)," added Rees.
Can insect protein overcome the 'ick' factor?
A strong nutritional and environmental case can be made for insect protein, according to Rees, but consumers haven't quite overcome the "ick factor" of insect-based products.
"It remains to be seen if we will actually come to consume insects in the way that the rest of the world does, despite all of these notable examples of advantages they have over other protein sources," said Rees.
Crickets, for instance, are a complete source of protein containing all nine essential amino acids, while cricket farming requires significantly less land and produces fewer greenhouse gas emission, noted Rees.
"However, people are not prepared to eat them as snacks," he added, making way for value-added ingredients such as finely milled insect protein flours and protein powders.