Meatless consumption remains strong due to specialty diets

07 March 2019 3 min. read
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A recent study from research and consulting firm Technomic has found that more people are switching to restrictive specialty diets, driving growth in meat-alternative consumption.

According to analysis from L.E.K. Consulting, a number of consumer trends, including health consciousness, safety concerns, sustainability, and the adoption of restrictive diets, have been driving growth in meat alternative products. As such, the market for plant-based substitutes (tofu, rice milk, etc.) grew 8% to reach $5 billion in 2017. Meanwhile, the subcategory of texturized vegetable protein, typically made from soy and shaped into chunks and flakes to mimic meat, is expected to reach a market size of $1.5 billion by 2028.

A new report from food services-focused research consultancy Technomic has found that the number of consumers on restrictive specialty diets has grown since 2016. Although the majority of consumers still don’t follow any type of specialty diet, the report, which surveyed 1,700 consumers, found that most who subscribe to a restrictive diet fall into the more permissive categories of “semivegetarian” or “flexitarian.”

"This desire for flexibility highlights the fact that dietary lifestyle choices are often not all-or-nothing decisions for consumers. Semivegetarian and flexitarian diets appeal to those who aspire to eat healthier while still providing leeway to splurge on meat or seafood occasionally," Bret Yonke, manager of consumer insights at Technomic, said.

“To cater to shifting behaviors, operators can offer protein substitutes for certain dishes or create a handful of build-your-own options that give consumers an even greater level of control," he added.

Food manufacturers have taken the shifting attitudes and tastes of consumers into account, with a number of big players diversifying their portfolio. Processed meat manufacturer Maple Leaf Foods purchased meat and cheese alternative products companies Lightlife Foods and Field Roast Grain Meat Co. in 2017, while Danone purchased milk alternative manufacturer WhiteWave and Nestle USA bought meat alternatives manufacturer Sweet Earth.

With food and environment-conscious millennials and Gen Zs slowly replacing meat-friendlier previous generations, the shift to alternatives will continue to grow, especially a plant-based foods begin to taste better and more similar to meat. 

One key finding from Technomic’s report reveals that 50% of consumers responded they eat a vegetarian or vegan dish at least once a month. That, however, is a low bar, as one can accidentally eat a delicious vegetarian meal by accident - a veggie pizza, macaroni and cheese, or a grilled cheese sandwich, with cheese being the common denominator. Vegan is tougher to accidentally eat.

Another finding was that 71% of consumers eat seafood once a month. The most common perpetrator is likely the lunchtime staple of canned tuna.

The report also uncovered that only 27% of those who eat vegan or vegetarian meals say that restaurants do a good job of providing good-tasting options. Clearly consumers have found a large swath of restaurants lacking in the tasty vegetarian department, though this would be likely apply more to chain restaurants and fast food joints.