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Why consumers do—or don’t—choose meat alternatives

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Contrary to popular belief, environmental concerns aren’t a top motivator for people to choose meat alternatives, a new study suggests.

Consumers are more likely to choose meat alternatives to support health than to protect the environment, according to a new study (Food Qual Pref. 2022. DOI: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2022.104610).

Plant-based meat alternatives continue to gain ground in supermarkets and in consumers’ shopping carts, thanks to food technology advancements that help plant-based meat options achieve taste, texture and appearance similar to animal meats.

However, plant-based meats maintain a small share of the market compared to animal meat products, which researchers don’t anticipate will change soon.

The present study, published in Food and Quality Preference, sought to get a better understanding of the motivations behind whether consumers choose plant-based meat alternatives.

For the study, researchers conducted an online survey of 441 men and women from in Germany to evaluate participants’ attitudes toward meat substitutes and their intention to consume them regularly in the future. They were also asked, for example, how much they care about their health and whether they think humanity is heading for an ecological crisis.

The researchers used the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) to study the statistical relationships between the responses.

TPB is a recognized behavior model used to predict an individual's intention to engage in a behavior at a specific time and place, and has been used previously to predict health behaviors such as smoking, drinking, health services utilization and others.

For the present study, TPB was extended with three factors: animal welfare, environmental and health concerns.

The results showed participants who displayed a greater concern for the environment were not more likely to buy or eat meat alternatives.

Health concerns, however, significantly impacted the intention to eat meat alternatives.

Animal welfare concerns, too, influenced the intention to eat meat alternatives. For example, people who held a negative view of factory farming had a more positive attitude toward plant-based meat substitutes, on average. This attitude positively impacts the intention to use meat alternatives in the future.

Understanding why consumers do—or don’t—eat plant-based meat alternatives is key to the continued success of the segment, which outpaced meat sales nearly threefold over the past three years with 74% growth in sales. In 2021, the plant-based meat category reached sales of $1.4 billion.

Rachel Adams joined Informa’s Health & Nutrition Network in 2013. Her career in the natural products industry started with a food and beverage focus before transitioning into her role as managing editor of Natural Products INSIDER, where she covered the dietary supplement industry. Adams left Informa Markets in 2019.

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