Lockdown Fake Meat Buyers Turned Into Full-Blown Plant-Based Converts


If you’ve eaten a meatless burger or faux sausage patty for the first time during the global pandemic, you’re not alone. And chances are you’re not a one-and-done consumer in the fast-growing alternative protein category.

According to a recent study, you may become a full-fledged convert to plant-based eating.

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Research from Archer Daniels Midland, one of the world’s largest food producers, found that 97% of people who tried their first fake meat products during the Covid-19 public health crisis intend to purchase them again.

U.S. consumers cited health, safety and convenience as their top reasons for buying brands like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, Dr. Praeger’s, Lightlife, MorningStar Farms and Gardein.

“Covid created this interesting window of trial with a high potential for adoption of the category,” said Ana Ferrell, ADM’s vice president of marketing. “What we eat has changed in the last six months, and that’s going to lead to some exciting innovations and market introductions in the next 12 to 18 months.”

Brands respond to the flexitarian boom

Americans aren’t going full vegetarian, not in significant numbers anyway. But more people are identifying themselves as flexitarian, a group that Ferrell estimates would be nearly 70% of the population if a poll were taken today.

“It’s no longer a consumer segment like it was five years ago,” she said of flexitarianism. “It’s mainstream. It’s a lifestyle.”

It’s not surprising, then, that major food conglomerates have taken notice, with Tyson, Perdue, Smithfield and others jumping into the plant-based meat category that saw explosive sales during quarantine, a trend that Ferrell expects to continue.

“If any company was hesitating, Covid showed them what they need to know,” she said, noting that millennial and Gen Z fans, in particular, have helped take faux meat from boutique health food stores to megachains like Walmart, Kroger and Target, as well as digital channels. Restaurant chains such as Burger King, Starbucks, KFC and Dunkin’ have also adopted the products as quickly as grocers.

The faux meat we eat

According to ADM’s data, new buyers are flooding into the category, and existing fans are consuming more plant-based meat, most often burgers (preferred by 54% of those polled), sausage (41%), chicken nuggets (41%) and meatballs (38%). Notably, Beyond Meat recently announced the launch of meatballs in its retail chains, with the product rolling out to some 26,000 locations this fall, and Impossible debuted its first premade burger patties at some 10,000 supermarkets in August.

Consumers eat plant-based meat at traditional meal times (62% at lunch, 61% at dinner and 45% at breakfast), though about 29% said they’re choosing faux protein for snacks.

Health, safety are top of mind

When asked why they bought faux meat this year, with 54% of new purchasers and 42% of existing fans saying they believe it’s safer than animal protein, and 57% of newbies and 46% of repeat buyers saying it’s healthier than animal protein.

Their top buying criteria, as some companies in the space snipe back and forth about “clean” ingredients, are taste, nutrients and protein content. “Few or no additives” didn’t rank as a major concern, nor did price, which often shows up as a high priority in other research.

Consumers are focused on health and wellness, along with transparency and safety in the food supply chain, which Ferrell said will benefit plant-based protein.

“People are looking at nutrition as a way to promote health,” she said, noting that their quarantine habits may be long-lasting. “Our research shows that many people say they plan to continue preparing their own food even once they return to the office.”

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