Taste is the top reason (52%) US consumers choose to eat plant-based proteins, outranking concerns over diet (10%), animal protection (11%), the environment (13%) and even health (39%), according to new research from Mintel.
Perceived health benefits are also said to be on consumers’ minds as nearly half (46%) of Americans agree that plant-based proteins are better for you than animal-based options, and three quarters (76%) say plant-based foods are healthy.
Whether a desire to avoid processed foods (39%), manage weight (31%) or promote muscle growth (16%), many plant-based protein consumers are motivated by maintaining or improving their health and well-being.
Non-GMO claims in particular are driving innovation in the category, as US launches of foods and beverages with plant-based proteins surge in recent years, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database.
The news comes days after a coalition of 57 investors urged global food companies to diversify their protein sourcing away from a reliance on animal proteins.
Billy Roberts, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel, said: “Americans are more and more avoiding food products with artificial ingredients and GMOs, and vegetarian, vegan and free-from foods have grown to be regarded as healthier options.
“Despite the fact that health attributes, particularly free-from, factor strongly in consumer decisions when purchasing plant-based proteins, at the end of the day, taste is the driving force behind purchase and eating decisions.
“While overall consumption of plant-based proteins remains low, these products benefit from a generally healthy reputation both for consumers’ diets and for the environment, and growing consumer interest in better-for-you lifestyles will continue to drive interest in the category.”
While healthy and functional attributes are of interest to consumers, with less than half (46%) of Americans saying they trust the functional claims made by plant-based foods, Mintel says there is an opportunity for brands to further communicate the benefits. In fact, seven in ten (71%) Americans agree that brands should provide more information about product/ingredient origin on packaging.
Nearly two thirds (64%) of Americans aged 18-34 agree that plant-based foods are more expensive than others, compared to 57% of consumers overall. However, some brands may be worth the price as almost half (47%) of those aged 18-34 say brand name is important when buying plant-based foods, compared to 40% of consumers overall.
Roberts added: “Faux meat has come a long way in terms of both innovation and consumer acceptance, with meatless, ‘bleeding’ burgers and lab-grown chicken found on menus and in grocery store aisles across the country. The majority of consumers look for plant-based proteins in meat, cheese and milk, which suggests that alternative meats and dairy products will find appeal, resulting in increased consumption.
“Additionally, a value-oriented plant-based protein may resonate well with members of the igeneration, millennials and younger members of generation x, as these consumers are more likely to say plant-based proteins are too expensive. Thus, major brands’ involvement in the category could bode well for the category as a whole.”