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Report highlights shopper confusion about ‘plant-based’

Nearly half of shoppers said it’s somewhat or very difficult to determine whether a food or beverage is plant-based—but that isn’t slowing their interest in the category.

Rachel French

August 26, 2022

3 Min Read
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Shoppers are confused about plant-based foods and beverages, but they want to purchase more of them, according to a new report from the Food Industry Association (FMI).  

Nearly half (42%) of shoppers said they put a lot or some effort into selecting plant-based foods or beverages, according to FMI’s Power of Plant-based Foods and Beverages report. The report, sponsored by NielsenIQ, is based on a survey of 2,009 U.S. shoppers about plant-based foods and beverages across 10 segments, and other data such as sales data and retailer insights.  

A plant-based diet is also one of the most common diet approaches, the report found, with 12% of shoppers reporting they follow a plant-based diet—surpassed only by heart-healthy diets, which are followed by 14% of respondents.  

What’s more, a whopping 82% of shoppers said they regularly or occasionally eat at least one animal alternative product. 

Naturally plant-based foods are the most popular plant-based items consumers reach for; three-fourths (75%) of shoppers regularly eat fruits and vegetables and nearly half (47%) regularly eat beans, nuts or grains.  

Despite a small percentage of shoppers reporting they avoid meat by following vegan (2%), vegetarian (6%), pescatarian (2%) or flexitarian diets (9%), more than 40% of shoppers reported they at least occasionally eat a meat, dairy or seafood alternative. 

The main driver behind plant-based purchases is health. When asked to give one word or phrase that comes to mind when they think of plant-based foods, shoppers most frequently said “healthy.” Across categories, health/nutrition drives nearly half (45%) of shoppers to purchase veggie-based meat/poultry products, while health drives about a third of meat/poultry alternatives purchases (38%) and dairy milk alternatives (36%). 

Despite widespread interest in plant-based food and beverages, the report found significant confusion among consumers about plant-based.  

According to the report, 49% of shoppers said it’s somewhat or very difficult to determine whether a food or beverage is plant-based. Despite this, only 11% of shoppers look for a plant-based designation on packaging. 

Consumers may also be divided about which products are plant-based. The majority consider both meat/poultry alternatives (58% and 57%, respectively) and starch/carb alternatives (57%) to definitely be plant-based foods. Less than half are convinced that dairy milk (49%) and dairy product (43%) alternatives are plant-based.  

Consumers care most that their plant-based milk alternatives (62%) and plant-based meat/seafood alternatives (60%) look, taste and feel like the real thing, but the majority of shoppers also care that the products have only a few ingredients (59%), contain minimal artificial ingredients (59%), are close to whole foods (57%) and are minimally processed (56%).  

That could be because some shoppers, per the report, consider characteristics such as “natural,” “organic” and “free-from” to fall under the plant-based umbrella. Similarly, when asked to provide one word that comes to mind when they think of plant-based, terms like “organic” or “natural” were popular picks. 

When describing the characteristics of plant-based, however, shoppers most often described such items as being products that don’t include meat or ingredients from animals, or that are plant- or vegetable-based.  

Most shoppers get information about plant-based foods from friends and family (36%), but a only a slightly smaller number rely on their grocery store (34%) for information, which could present an opportunity for retailers to better connect with customers who are hungry for information about plant-based.  

About the Author(s)

Rachel French

Contributing editor

Rachel French 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. French left Informa Markets in 2019, but continues to freelance for both FBI and NPI.

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