The original veggie burger dates back decades, but more recently, a new generation of plant alternatives to animal meat has exploded on the food scene, distinguished from their predecessors by the intent to mimic the taste and texture of animal meat.
While there are a variety of reasons why people have tried plant alternatives to animal meat, the top reason for doing so is liking to try new foods (41%), according to new research from the International Food Information Council (IFIC). Nearly half (49%) of consumers surveyed have tried a plant alternative to animal meat.
The survey was conducted among 1,000 U.S. adults ages 18 and up in December 2019. To orient survey takers, the emerging food category was described as “meatless burgers, chicken, fish, sausages and other ground products that attempt to mimic the flavor and texture of animal protein but are made with only plant products.” Throughout the survey, these types of foods were collectively referred to as “plant alternatives to animal meat.”
Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority (66%) of people in the survey identified as omnivores. A lower percentage of omnivores (44%) have tried a plant alternative to animal meat compared with vegetarians (72%), “sometimes” vegetarians (77%), vegans (76%) and pescatarians (75%).
Having tried a plant alternative to animal meat was more common among the younger population, with those under 45 years of age being the most likely consumers (62%). Men were more likely consumers than women (53% versus 44%).
Of the people surveyed by IFIC who have not tried one of these products, the top reason was the anticipation that these alternatives won’t taste good (31%), with other commonly reported factors including that the respondents were not trying to eat less meat (19%) and “no specific reason” (21%). Further, 12% reported that they plan to eat one eventually but just haven’t yet.
While not the top factor for choosing to consume a plant alternative to animal meat, there was a strong belief that these products are better for the environment than animal meat. While nearly half of survey takers (47%) said they believe that plant alternatives are better for the environment than animal meat, only 5% believe plant alternatives to be worse for the environment. The other half of survey respondents said they believe plant alternatives have an equal impact on the environment (23%) or are unsure (24%).
As the buzz around plant alternatives to animal meat has increased, so have questions about their nutritional value compared with animal meat. While the general sentiment is that they are better for the environment than animal meat, there is less consensus on whether they are better for health. A variety of factors appeared to influence health perceptions of plant-based labels, but one aspect — the Nutrition Facts Panel — carried the most weight. Nearly one-quarter of IFIC survey participants (23%) said Nutrition Facts influenced their health perception more than the ingredient list, while fewer said the ingredient list influenced their health perception more than Nutrition Facts (14%).
The perceived healthfulness of plant alternatives decreased slightly after the ingredient lists were included with the Nutrition Facts. Based on comparing Nutrition Facts labels, 45% said they thought the plant alternative was healthier than animal meat, while 25% believed the plant alternative to be unhealthier.