Take note: Health-conscious consumers are reaching for more plant-based proteins.
According to a report published in September by consumer research firm Nielsen, 39 percent of Americans surveyed want to get more plant-based protein in their diet. Reasons for this desire varied, but 83 percent of those looking for more plant-based proteins said the desire to improve overall health and nutrition motivated them. More than half, 51 percent, said they want to eat “clean.”
According to the survey, 38 percent of Americans agreed or strongly agreed that “plant-based protein is associated with positive health effects.” By comparison, only 30 percent of Americans agreed that “animal protein is associated with positive health effects.” Further on the fringe, 17 percent agreed that “plant-based protein offers superior nutritional value compared to animal protein” while 14 percent agreed that “there is no need to eat meat in today’s day and age.” This data, Nielsen said, suggests plant-based protein appeals to significantly more people than just those who follow vegetarian diets – 6 percent of of U.S. and Canadian consumers – and those who follow vegan diets – 3 percent of U.S. consumers.
The increased desire for plant-based protein is bleeding over to heightened plant-based food sales. According to Nielsen, between July 2016 and July 2017 sales of plant-based food and beverages rose 14.7 percent. Prepared foods containing meat alternatives in particular saw growth. Sales of prepared food containing jackfruit, for instance, rose 377 percent during the time period. Nielsen said these trends indicate people are increasingly willing to open their wallet and try alternative proteins.
Make no mistake, meat is still king when it comes to protein. More than half of each dollar spent on protein is going toward fresh meat – chicken, turkey, pork, beef or seafood – Nielsen research said. However, this report should serve as a reminder that the poultry industry, along with its peers in red meat, needs to include health as a key part of its marketing efforts. Especially as activists and marketers peddle plant-based proteins as a "clean" alternative or a healthier choice than meat.
While it’s easy to forget when dealing with more complex antibiotic and animal welfare issues, consumers want a healthy, safe product to serve to their families. These results show 70 percent of consumers are either unsure, or disagree, that animal protein is good for them. That’s a systemic problem that can, and should, be addressed by better communication of meat’s health benefits and enhanced transparency about the supply chain to build up trust.