Flexitarians and the rise of meat-free meat

29 August 2018

Plant-based alternatives to meat are getting increasingly sophisticated, attempting to match the taste, texture and experience of eating the real thing. With a “bleeding” burger hitting Tesco stores this month, is this what the UK’s 22m flexitarians are waiting for?

Plant-based meat in the supermarkets

Beyond Meat has brought its best-selling burger to British shores and will be stocked in 350 branches of Tesco. The Beyond burger is made entirely from plants and is not tested on animals. Its ingredients include 20g of pea protein, coconut oil and potato starch, with the “blood” coming from beetroot juice.

Sainsbury’s has also expanded its meat-free selection by selling two new plant-based burgers and mince (from Denmark company Naturli’ Foods) in 400 of its larger stores. Meanwhile, Iceland plans to follow its popular meat-free No Bull burgers, launched in April, with a new range including a “no-chicken chicken”.

Consumer demand driving the market

The last few years have seen meat consumption fall due to health concerns and questions around ethics and sustainability. Veganism, vegetarianism and flexitarianism are on the rise, with consumer numbers at 3.5m, 1.2m and an estimated 22m respectively in the UK. To clarify, flexitarians are those who enjoy meat but eat it only occasionally.

Clearly, retailers are adapting to cater for this increasing slice of the consumer market. Seth Goldman, the Beyond Meat executive chairman said the company was deliberately targeting the UK’s estimated 22 million flexitarians because, since Beyond burgers’ US launch in January 2017, there had been more inquiries and interest from the UK than any other country outside America.

What else is happening in the USA?

Two years after it was launched, Beyond Meat supplies to more than 10,000 US grocery stores and 10,000-plus restaurants. According to data from Nielsen and the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA), US plant-based food sales rose 20% over the past year, to more than $3.3 billion, with plant-based meats rising 24%, hitting $670 million in sales.

“These foods have moved into the mainstream,” said Michele Simon, executive director of the PBFA. “They’re not just for the relatively small niche of vegan or vegetarian.”

According to HealthFocus International data, 17% of US consumers aged 15 to 70 currently claim to eat a predominately plant-based diet, while 60% report to be cutting back on meat-based products.

The big meat companies have taken note with Tyson Food taking a 5% stake in Beyond Meat in 2016. Sales of plant-based protein alternatives make up a relatively small portion of the overall food market but, as shoppers continue to search for healthier and cleaner protein sources, it’s likely to continue to rise.

An opportunity to innovate?

This shift represents a number of challenges to the traditional meat businesses, but also to those who are established meat-free food businesses. Purveyors of meat are adapting, whether it’s Tyson investing in Beyond Meat, or US fast food chain White Castle embracing the Impossible Burger, there’s a lot of buzz (and investment) around the new breed of plant-based meat alternatives.

And it would also appear that long-standing providers like Quorn are thriving too. According to a company press release, like-for-like sales were up 12% in the first half of 2018, compared to the same period in 2017. What’s more, 2017 was the company’s strongest ever year in terms of growth.

Quorn has invested £7 million in a new Global Innovation Centre at its company headquarters to continue developing products and recipes that provide plant-based eaters and flexitarians with a larger range of meat-free options.

The market growth and investment suggests meat-free alternatives are here to stay, offering a new option to producers and consumers alike. Innovative products are taking off around the globe, and alternatives to meat are becoming big business.

If you’d like support on your meat-free product development contact us for a no obligation chat.

Image credit: beyondmeat.com.