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Americas: Protein alternatives needed as more go meat-free

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While not fully committing to a meat-free lifestyle, ‘Meatless Mondays’ seem to be catching on among Americans as a way to cut back, says Mintel.

Its new research reveals that the top reason US consumers use meat alternatives is because they occasionally like to have meat-free days (31%).

Health reasons are also driving interest, with 30% of consumers who take protein alternatives saying that they are watching their cholesterol and 29% are worried about eating too much saturated fat.

Mintel research indicates that 35% of Americans are eating protein more from sources other than red meat.

However, while 66% of protein alternatives consumers agree they are healthier than real meat, 46% say that protein alternatives products are too high in sodium.

In addition to health reasons, protein alternatives seem to be playing a part in leading a healthier lifestyle as 28% of those who use protein alternatives are trying to lose weight.

Some 29% of new meat substitutes in 2016 featured a low-calorie or low-carbohydrate claim, up from 7.1% of new products in 2015, according to Mintel Global New Products Database.

“Americans are embracing popular trends like ‘Meatless Mondays’ as an easy and consistent way to include meat-free meals into their diets in an effort to reduce meat consumption as health concerns surrounding red meat continue to grow,” says Billy Roberts, senior food and drink analyst.

“With so many consumers turning to protein from sources other than meat and poultry, there is an opportunity for marketers to reach a sizable group with concerns related to health, particularly cholesterol and fat content.”

Among those who consume meat alternatives, 80% rely on the package instructions to inform their cooking methods and 66% say they would eat more protein alternatives if they knew how best to prepare them.

About 38% protein alternatives consumers agree that all alternative protein offerings taste the same, no matter what meat they are supposed to mimic.

However, restaurants could be a source of inspiration as 26% of consumers say they eat protein alternatives at a restaurant.

“As consumers appear largely unwilling to experiment with protein alternatives, likely due to lack of familiarity, alternative brands have significant room to grow in terms of establishing themselves as a ‘go-to’ meat alternative option,” says Roberts.

“Consumers are looking not only for more information about the ingredients in these products, they are also looking for guidance in how best to prepare them.”

The consumption of eggs is almost universal, with 86% of Americans eating or using eggs in recipes at least once a month and 61% doing so at least weekly.

While egg substitutes are less popular, 16% of Americans claim to consume egg substitutes at least weekly.

Egg consumption appears to be declining with age as 47% of Americans in the World War II/Swing generation (those aged 72 or older in 2017) claim to eat eggs weekly as compared to 71% of Millennials (those aged 23-40 in 2017), who are also much more likely to consume egg substitutes at least weekly (31%).

“Though egg substitutes seem appropriate for older consumers seeking more healthful egg replacers, our research shows that the younger generation is significantly more likely to use them,” says Roberts.

“This could be the result of older consumers simply using fewer eggs, or a general distrust of egg replacers as a suitable substitute, presenting an opportunity for brands to retain interest among consumers of younger generations as they age.”