What do Europeans really want from plant-based foods?

17 Jan 2022

Familiar ingredients, more product choice and lower prices are just some of the attributes European consumers are looking for in plant-based foods, according to the findings of a recent ProVeg consumer survey.

This summer, in partnership with Innova Market Insights and as part of the Smart Protein project, non-profit organisation ProVeg conducted a 7,500-strong survey, questioning consumers from 10 European countries about their attitudes towards plant-based foods, their current eating and drinking habits, and the key drivers of their food choices.

What do Europeans really want from plant-based foods?

With a central focus on flexitarians (the most populous group and, from a food brand and retail perspective, the most lucrative segment), the survey reveals “tremendous potential” for plant-based foods in Europe, according to ProVeg.

“Consumer demand for alternative proteins is growing at a remarkable rate, with no end in sight,” it said.

Thirty percent of those surveyed said they followed a flexitarian diet with plant-based eaters (vegans and vegetarians) accounting for 7%. Just under 40% said they intended to eat less meat products in the near future, while almost half (46%) had already reduced their meat consumption. Around 30% stated that they intended to reduce the amount of dairy they ate or drank.

More choice and familiar ingredients

Regarding their perceptions of plant-based foods, half of all respondents said they were too expensive while 46% of flexitarian eaters said there was not enough choice in supermarkets.

The survey highlighted some potential areas for new product development too: vegan versions of chicken, beef, salmon and tuna are the most sought-after meat and fish products while vegan mozzarella and sliced cheese came top for the cheese alternatives that people would most like to see on supermarket shelves.

Europeans also seem to be rather conservative when it comes to plant-based proteins, with many people expressing a preference for familiar ingredients, such as potatoes and rice, over unfamiliar ones, like tapioca, lupin, and amaranth.

ProVeg identified several key insights and recommendations for food manufacturers based on the findings. For instance, the Netherlands and Romania had the highest share of flexitarians (42% and 40% respectively) while in Germany 10% of individuals follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Dutch, Romanian and German consumers are therefore potentially lucrative consumer groups for plant-based products, ProVeg noted, particularly as many vegans and flexitarians have adopted these new dietary habits in the past two years, suggesting they are open to change and interested in discovering new products.

Brands need to lower the price

Taste, however, is still the number one driver of repeat purchase rates.

“As with many other studies, our results reveal that flexitarians evaluate taste as the most important aspect when it comes to plant-based foods. If a product doesn’t taste good, consumers won’t buy it a second time. The health and additives aspects clearly address the topic of clean label, which is increasingly of concern to consumers, especially when it comes to plant-based meats, which often have a fairly long ingredient list,” reads the report.

“In order to enter the mainstream, and thus provide lucrative business opportunities, food manufacturers of plant-based foods also need to lower the prices of their products. This topic is thus increasingly on the food industry’s agenda, since it is well-known that reaching price parity with animal-based meat is an important step towards the widespread adoption of plant-based meat.”

Industry calls for ‘holistic protein-platform strategy’

Commenting on the survey findings, Marcus Keitzer, board member at German poultry giant PHW Group which founded an alternative protein business unit in 2018, said: “One thing we do know for sure: neither meat products alone nor currently available alternative protein options are going to be able to sustainably meet the protein requirements of future generations on their own.

“A holistic protein-platform strategy is needed, which includes ecologically optimized meat production as well as a visionary approach in the field of alternative proteins,” he added.

Vinciane Patelou, director at ENSA, the European Plant-based Foods Association, called on the EU’s regulatory framework to keep up with the evolution of the plant-based trend, particularly on issues such as labelling.

The countries surveyed were Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, and the UK.

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