While vegans and vegetarians might seem an obvious market for the growing number of plant-based products being launched right now, grocers and foodservice operators would be wise to focus on the ever-increasing number of “flexitarians”—people who eat mostly plant-based foods, but who also eat meat and other animal products in moderation.
That was a key message delivered by a number of speakers and panellists at the 2019 Global Summit on Plant Powered Menus, held in downtown Toronto on Nov. 12 and 13.
“The size that you heard to date about vegans and vegetarians is still pretty small, it’s around that 6% mark; and it’s flat, they haven’t really changed,” says Asad Amin, vice-president, market strategy and understanding at Ipsos, speaking in a break-out session titled Emerging Ideas: The Future of Plant-Powered Products & Menus.
“But what’s growing overall is that people are consuming more non-meat proteins. And when you’re talking about that cohort that consists of flexitarians, they can account for around 26% of our population; and they are really a larger prize, so to speak, in the marketplace.”
Amin noted that the flexitarians are also a more diverse group in terms of demographics than the vegans and vegetarians, who tend to skew younger. “In fact, flexitarians actually skew a little bit older,” he explained.
The blending trend
A number of sessions also touched on the trend toward blended proteins—products that blend meat with plant proteins to decrease the overall amount of meat being used. While still relatively new, these types of products are expected to increasingly appeal to flexitarians.
During a session called CEO Panel: Capitalizing on Plant-Powered Menus with the Transformers, Paul Shapiro, CEO of The Better Meat Co., discussed how blending can be a great option for reducing the environmental impact of eating meat.
“It’s not the only option, but it’s an important option—having hybrid products, kind of like hybrid cars, so that for people who are ordering the default option [meaning a traditional meat item like a burger or chicken nuggets], they’re getting a regular product that has meat in it, but getting a lot less meat,” he said.
He gave the example of the Perdue Foods’ blended chicken nugget, called Perdue Chicken Plus, which launched earlier this year. It blends cauliflower, chickpeas and other plant proteins with actual chicken meat to create a nugget that tastes just like a regular chicken nugget while drastically reducing the amount of meat used.
“It’s right in the frozen section where the rest of the chicken nuggets are,” Shapiro said, “and you’re going to get a product that has just as much protein, but less saturated fat, less cholesterol, fewer calories and you can’t taste the difference … So I think it’s a promising strategy to improve sustainability and nutrition without requiring the consumer to actively choose something different.”
Avoiding the ‘v’ word?
A number of panellists throughout the two-day event also talked about the importance of focusing on what’s in the food itself and making it as appealing as possible, rather than labelling it or segregating it into a separate section of the store or menu.
Nobody was more passionate about this concept than Kiki Adami, consultant and founder of Veganizer. Adami, who was on two different panels at the event, stressed that she now tells her clients to avoid the word “vegan” in their marketing as she believes it has become a word that’s charged with political meaning.
“The word vegan is not necessarily a diet; the word vegan has become a political stance,” she argued, noting that it could potentially alienate some consumers who might have otherwise chosen that particular option if it wasn’t labelled “vegan.”
“So it’s really important to put the focus on what the food is, rather than labelling it, and cornering it into something that is political and has nothing to do with the ingredients. Ingredients are ingredients. You should really be focusing on practicing true transparency so you don’t have to label it; and true transparency is ‘what’s in this food,’ so people know what they’re getting. That’s really what it boils down to.”