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Behavior Change
Giving Up Meat = Healthy Living = Healthy Planet. Are We at a Dietary Inflection Point?

The growing appetite for a shift away from meat-based diets is good news for addressing a range of health and climate issues. But business has a critical role to play in making the transition as affordable, accessible and delicious as possible.

The COVID-19-enforced lockdowns have been tough on all of us. To combat boredom, depression and anxiety, and to boost mental wellbeing, many of us have turned to exercise as a coping mechanism. The market for home fitness equipment grew more than 40 percent in 2020. Peloton alone could be worth $60 billion in the next four years, with analysts suggesting it is on a similar trajectory to the likes of Apple and Netflix.

Getting fit was already increasing in popularity, as evidenced by the global demand for fitness tracking devices such as the Fitbit and Apple Watch — which increased 32 percent in 2019. We want to look after ourselves now more than ever before.

This is certainly clear from the findings of the recently released global consumer insights research from GlobeScan. The latest GlobeScan Healthy & Sustainable Living report shows ‘wellbeing’ to be the number-one area of interest for consumers in all markets, regardless of age and demographic. As GlobeScan CEO Chris Coulter explains:

“There is a strong desire among consumers to change their lifestyles for the better. Health is the area consumers across the globe would like to change the most — and it’s also the area where global consumers have made the most changes in the past year; perhaps unsurprisingly, given the global COVID-19 pandemic.”

The meat-free conundrum

According to the research, consumers’ changes to become healthier center on diet and exercise — to have a better quality of life, both physically and mentally, while preventing illness. Eating healthy and nutritious food, spending time with family and friends, preparing meals at home, eating locally grown foods and spending time in nature are all mentioned as aspirations.

All generations believe we need to consume less resources overall, in the name of ensuring the health of the planet for future generations. And that includes eating less meat.

Thanks to a range of factors — including land clearance for pastures, animal-feed production and the methane produced by cows and sheep — meat and dairy production accounts for around 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Going without meat could have a big impact on averting a climate crisis.

Consumer interest continues to grow

According to the GlobeScan research, as many as 40 percent of consumers across the world say they would choose a plant-based meat substitute if price and taste remain the same. This is backed by the steadily growing market for plant-based alternatives — which is set to grow by almost nine percent a year and be worth $38.4 billion by 2025.

Since Swedish burger chain MAX Burgers launched its Delifresh plant-based burger four years ago, sales have grown 1,100 percent. Last April, shares of US plant-based meat brand Beyond Meat jumped 49 percent, thanks to rising widespread consumer interest in plant-based foods and a high-profile partnership with Starbucks. A joint venture deal with PepsiCo saw shares rise sharply again earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Beyond rival Impossible Foods raised $500 million of new funding last year to add plant-based alternatives for lamb, goat and fish to its repertoire.

While most meat eaters globally still prefer real meat to alternatives made from plants, as many as four in ten say they’d choose a plant-based substitute if price and taste remain the same. In fact, a majority of consumers in seven of 27 nations surveyed — Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam — say they would prefer plant-based alternatives to real meat. Interestingly, most of these countries are heavy meat-eating nations that devote plenty of resources to its production every year.

Taste is everything, according to Joe Lam, Impossible’s Director of Consumer Insights and Analytics. Most consumers want to eat better, and they have a lot of solutions to do that — whether just increasing fruit or veg in their diet or reducing their meat consumption, he says. But when it comes to cutting out meat, trying meat alternatives is tough, “because you’re trading off on taste.”

“Consumers describe the existing solutions as ‘cardboard hockey pucks’,” Lam told Sustainable Brands™. “The bar is so low; that for a company like Impossible to come along and say, ‘We taste exactly like meat’ — people are super skeptical, but curious. Once they do try it, their mind is blown because it’s broken that low bar assumption of taste.

“There are also consumers that actually think giving up meat isn’t healthy. We hear it a lot: ‘A meal without meat is not a meal’.”

Brands are paying attention

Alongside new players such as Beyond and Impossible, more and more global brands, manufacturers and retailers are helping to connect the dots for consumers when it comes to the nutritional and environmental benefits of walking away from meat.

In addition to being the world’s largest home furnishings retailer, IKEA operates what might be the world’s largest self-serve cafeteria. In November, the company committed to ensure that 50 percent of the meals served in its restaurants will be plant-based, and 80 percent to be non-red meat, by 2025. It has said it plans to make healthy and sustainable choices the most desirable options, by demonstrating that plant-based food can be really delicious — the new HUVUDROLL, a plant ball, is giving the company’s popular Swedish meatball a run for its money. It has just 4 percent of the climate footprint of the traditional meatball “without compromising on taste and texture,” according to the company.

Consumer goods giant Unilever has also been expanding its plant-based meat and dairy alternatives business. In 2018, it bought The Vegetarian Butcher and has since introduced the brand into 30 countries. It now supplies Burger King’s Plant-Based Whopper across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Meanwhile, the first vegan Magnum bar has picked up plenty of plaudits; as has Hellmann’s Vegan Mayo and Ben & Jerry’s Coconutterly Caramel’d dairy-free ice cream. The company’s €85 million investment in a foods innovation centre in the Netherlands will no doubt see its meat-alternatives business continue to grow in the coming years.

Snack food and beverage giant PepsiCo has also seized the opportunity.

“The desire for plant-based protein will only continue to grow as does consumer demand for more nutritious, environmentally conscious products,” Ram Krishnan, the firm’s Global Chief Commercial Officer told SB. He points to studies showing that 47 percent of teens either consume or are open to consuming plant-based meat; and nearly 65 percent of Gen Z finds meat substitutes appealing, he adds.

Growing demand = gigantic opportunity

It is these market trends that encouraged PepsiCo to enter into its new joint venture with Beyond Meat to “unlock new product lines that will inspire positive choices.” The so-called PLANeT Partnership will leverage Beyond Meat’s technology in plant-based protein development and PepsiCo’s commercial clout, to create and scale plant-based protein snacks and beverages. PepsiCo already has products such as Sabra Snack Cups, Alvalle ready-to-drink gazpacho, Evolve and Off the Eaten Path snacks. The deal with Beyond is expected to see this line expanded.

“Health-minded and environmentally conscious purchasing continues to be an enduring food and beverage trend,” Krishnan says. “I feel confident the interest in plant-based offerings will only increase; and that consumer demand will encourage new, affordable and accessible meat-free offerings to the marketplace over the next ten years.”

As the GlobeScan research shows, the wider public might still need convincing of the health, nutrition and environmental benefits of changing well-established habits. As with most things, money talks, Lam says: “Taste is super important; but if you’re trying to get a global population to shift, price is everything.”

Impossible recently announced two price cuts — first, in the food service sector; and then, in retail.

“As we lower our price, it’ll open the market up to consumers of non-organic grass-fed beef. Initially, there’s enough curiosity in the product for people to try it, even if it’s really high price. But price really becomes a factor during the repeat process and building that habit-forming behavior.”

The most important thing brands can do is create products that do not require huge behavior change, Lam asserts:

“We do what we do, and we like what we like. Changing that is really hard. The beauty of the Impossible burger is that we just give them what they like, but without the environmental impact.”

Clearly, the appetite is there for a shift away from meat-based diets — which is good news for addressing a range of healthcare issues, as well as the climate crisis. But business has a critical role to play, Coulter says:

“Brands must continue to innovate and invest — to make it affordable, accessible and delightful for people to make the change easy and permanent.”