SHIFT20: How are consumers thinking about plant-based eating? Mattson unveils new survey data

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: Impossible Foods
Picture: Impossible Foods

Related tags: SHIFT20, IFT show, Mattson, plant-based, Plant-based foods, plant-based meat, plant-based dairy

Perceived health benefits remain the #1 purchase driver for plant-based foods according to new consumer research from innovation consultancy Mattson, although environmental factors, taste (in the case of plant-based dairy), and the sense that ‘I feel better when I eat plant-based foods’ are all gaining in importance.

Speaking in an education session at the virtual IFT show this week (SHIFT20​) dubbed ‘2025, the Third Wave of Plant-Based Eating​,’ Mattson president and chief innovation officer Barb Stuckey said the top five reasons cited by consumers (a nationally representative sample of US adults polled in June 2020*) choosing to eat plant-based foods more often were:

  1. General health benefits: 65% (down from 82% in 2018)
  2. Better for the environment: 48% (up vs 31% in 2018)
  3. I feel better when I eat plant-based foods: 46%
  4. To lose weight: 30% (down vs 44% in 2018)
  5. Animal welfare: 26%

She added: “The #1 response remains general health benefits, but there’s definitely a shift that we’re seeing, with ​[fewer people mentioning health and] more people choosing to eat plant-based foods more often because they think it’s better for the environment – a major change in just two years – especially among younger consumers, whereas for older consumers it’s more about health.”

As for the top approaches that consumers plan to deploy to increase consumption of plant-based foods at home, eating more vegetables remains the #1 choice. However, eating more plant-based meat is now the second choice ahead of eating more salads or fruit. Eating more legumes/beans also rose up the rankings in 2020 (27% vs 23% in 2018).

  1. Eat more vegetables 53% (vs 57% in 2018)
  2. Eat more plant-based meat products 37% (vs 27% in 2018)
  3. Eat less meat 32% (vs 30% in 2018)
  4. Eat more salads 28% (vs 37% in 2018)
  5. Eat more fruit 27% (vs 35% in 2018)
  6. Eat more legumes/beans 27% (vs 23% in 2018)

Drilling down into categories, the top reasons cited by consumers for buying plant-based dairy alternatives were:

  1. General health benefits: 59%
  2. I like the taste better: 38%
  3. I feel better when I eat plant-based food: 31%
  4. Food intolerances or sensitivities: 27%
  5. Better for the environment: 27%

The top reasons cited for not​ buying plant-based dairy alternatives were:

  1. Prefer to eat the real thing: 64%
  2. Too expensive: 49%
  3. Don’t like the taste: 47%
  4. Never thought about buying them: 31%

The top reasons cited by consumers for buying beef, poultry, or pork alternatives were:

  1. General health benefits: 63%
  2. Better for the environment: 41%
  3. I feel better when I eat plant-based food: 40%

The top reasons cited for not​ buying beef, poultry or pork alternatives were:

  1. Prefer to eat the real thing: 55%
  2. Too expensive: 50%
  3. Never thought about buying them: 34%   
  4. Others in my household won’t eat them 34%
  5. Too processed 31%
  6. Too many ingredients I can’t pronounce 19%
  7. Don’t like the taste 18%

The fact that a meaningful number of consumers in both meat and dairy alternative categories cited “Never thought about buying them” ​when asked why they didn’t buy such products highlights a significant opportunity for education and awareness-raising, noted Stuckey.

As for the question, ‘Which plants do you consider to be the best sources of protein?’​ beans, lentils and chickpeas all scored highly, although peas were far lower down the pecking order noted Stuckey, again highlighting an area of opportunity for marketers.

  1. Beans 57%
  2. Lentils 45%
  3. Chickpeas 36%
  4. Quinoa 32%
  5. Soybeans 28%

Finally, when asked whether they felt plant-based diets were faddish, the vast majority of consumers felt the shift towards more plant-based eating is here to stay, said Stuckey, who said flexitarians, not vegans and vegetarians, are driving the growth in the market,* with about a third of consumers polled now claiming to be actively trying to eat less meat, dairy, fish or poultry.

Do you think plant-based diets are:

  • A fundamental change in how we eat that will continue for a long time: 58%
  • A fundamental change in how we eat that will continue forever: 25%
  • Trendy now, but will not stand the test of time: 16%
  • A fad and will be gone quickly: 2%

Dr James Richardson: 'Outcomes of daily, personal significance (e.g. health, feeling better) to the consumer scale brands the best'

Dr James Richardson, author of Ramping Your Brand​ and founder of consultancy Premium Growth Solutions​, told FoodNavigator-USA: "Mattson's data on why consumers eat plant-based meat alternatives is yet another great example of how the founder's motives often diverge from the top drivers of trial.

"In turn, we see the importance of doing consumer research early on as a young CPG brand to help separate founder vs. consumer motivations. Founders can and should do this research themselves so they get as objective as possible and ensure their early marketing and branding work hits the most high value, scalable strategic outcome possible.

"Outcomes of daily, personal significance (e.g. health, feeling better) to the consumer scale brands the best."

*While only 2% of consumers polled by Mattson in June 2020 described themselves as vegan and 3% as vegetarian, 12% said they were ‘mostly vegetarian’ and 20% said they were actively trying to eat less meat, dairy, fish, or poultry. For more details about this year's survey, contact​ Barb Stuckey at Mattson.

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