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How flexitarians are changing the food industry one veggie burger at a time

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Three in 10 consumers now class themselves as ‘flexitarians’ (aka flexible vegetarian) – someone who limits the amount of red meat, poultry and seafood they consume.

According to research, 30% of consumers across the globe have adopted a flexible attitude towards meat eating; whether this means they have committed to a fixed number of meat-free days per week or just decided to eat less meat.

The impact on the food industry and its supply chain may not yet be apparent as flexitarianism is a relatively new trend but it is certainly growing. Food and packaging manufacturers should see this change in consumer diets as an opportunity for innovation.

The meat-free trend is being fuelled by a number of factors:

  • Financial constraints due to the higher costs of meat protein
  • Growing health awareness among consumers which has heightened following the recent WHO report publication about red and processed meats
  • Religious and ethical beliefs associated with meat consumption
  • Animal wellbeing and environmental considerations connected to meat production

Consumers are searching for a worthy replacement for meat, and alternative proteins are a main contender. Protein content remains an important factor in influencing consumer purchasing decisions alongside other factors, such as low fat, high fibre, low sugar, and vitamin content.

The protein sector as a whole shows no sign of slowing; consumer’s protein intake is very much on the increase, as explored in earlier blog ‘Protein: What's all the fuss?’. In fact, the global protein market was anticipated to reach $24.5 billion in 2015 with Europe projected to be the fastest growing market in the coming years.

There have been many changes occurring in the meat-alternative market in recent years. Historically, the vegetarian food market consisted of mainly soy and wheat, whereas now, plant proteins such as beans, nuts, seeds and grains are becoming mainstream - they were in fact the fastest growing market segment in 2015, according to Mintel.

Many consumers perceive plant proteins as being natural and containing healthy ingredients, which is becoming more important for modern consumers who are focused on ‘organic’, ‘natural’ and ‘free from’ lifestyles.

Despite fast growth within the market, there are some major barriers that could affect long-term plant protein uptake in the future. These include the perceived lack of taste of plant protein, possible premium price occurrence, absence of amino acids, safety concerns associated with genetically modified foods and sustainability issues around deforestation.

Many of these barriers are being addressed by the industry. The concern around taste for example, is likely to be quashed by extensive product innovation carried out by brands to provide consumers with exciting new flavours and ingredient combinations. Without this innovative thinking brands will find it hard to compete and stand out in the category, as consumers are constantly on the look out for that latest weird and wonderful taste experience.

Technological and scientific developments in food manufacturing have resulted in a focus on providing greater diversity in prepared vegetarian product offerings, introducing shelf-stable, refrigerated and frozen products along with many flavour variations, tempting consumers to try a wider variety of vegetarian options.

According to Euromonitor meat alternatives are predicted to grow by 12% between 2015 and 2020.

 In 2014, one in eight Brits claimed they were eating more non-animal sources of protein (e.g. plant and grains) compared to 2013. Furthermore, research by the Vegetarian Society showed that in 2013, 40% of consumers in the UK had bought vegetarian or meat-free products.

The trend doesn’t stop in the UK; 70% of Dutch consumers no longer eat meat on a daily basis; meat substitutes in Germany were expected to be worth €122 million in 2015 showing strong double-digit volume and value growth; and there is now an estimated 1,228 dedicated vegetarian and vegan food service outlets in France, 218 of which are in Paris.

Flexitariansim is not a fad, but a global phenomenon here to stay. By 2050 the world population is forecast to have increased by 2.4 billion and food experts predict that plant proteins will replace three quarters of animal products consumed today based on production costs, land and water degradation.

The food industry is already busily innovating to meet the needs of this trend, now comes the turn of packaging industry to step up to the challenge. See LINPAC’s next blog to discover how the packaging industry is adapting and how packaging manufacturers can create packaging to appeal to the mindset of this new consumer segment, the flexitarian.

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