Consumers doubt healthiness of processed meat alternatives

Some consumers are beginning to find the amount of processing used to create meat alternatives concerning.

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Anthony Lindsey Photography
Anthony Lindsey Photography

Consumer interest in plant-based proteins has skyrocketed in the past few years due to the perceived health and sustainability benefits. However, some now find issue with the amount of processing used to create meat alternatives.

“When we look at consumer attitudes toward proteins, we see that, by and large, consumers say that they want their meat substitutes to closely mimic the taste and texture of real meat,” Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight at market intelligence group, Mintel, said during Alternative Proteins: Consumer Trends and Industry Innovation.

“Half of consumers say that they want whole plant-based proteins, think of bean burgers. But consumers do want to see products that are less processed.”

Flexitarians look for healthy options

Currently, 14% of U.S. consumers eat a flexitarian diet. However, this eating approach has the potential for huge growth – 22% of respondents said they plan to move toward a flexitarian diet in the future, according to Datassential.

Consumers who eat a flexitarian diet still consume meat but are trying to cut back, typically citing health, planetary health, animal welfare or social responsibility reasons.

However, a subset of consumers have begun to realize that the proposed health benefits of plant-based proteins currently on the market may be overrated. Although meat alternatives are typically viewed as healthier than animal products, some dieticians have pointed out that the amounts of sodium and saturated fat found in plant-based burgers are the same as those made of beef.

Meat substitutes at a crossroads

Meat substitutes are now confronted with the decision on which direction to pursue. Do they pursue taste with a more indulgent eating experience, or do they put a greater emphasis on health by cleaning up the ingredient list?

“It feels to me that the industry might be at a little bit of a crossroads in that consumers are beginning to wonder about the longer lists of ingredients that we see in some of the plant-based alternatives and they’re also starting to ask questions about the nutrition profile,” Dornblaser explained.

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