CONSUMER RESEARCH ON PLANT-BASED MEAT ALTERNATIVES IN AN ERA OF PROTEIN POPULARITY

By: Marisa Paipongna, Research and Nutrition Coordinator, International Food Information Council

 

Americans are increasingly tuned into the sources and types of proteins we’re consuming, with a growing interest in plant-based alternatives (PBAs). PBAs are designed to mimic the flavor and texture of animal protein, many of which use soy as a primary ingredient. But just how many people are consuming these products, and why?

To answer these questions and more, Soy Nutrition Institute (SNI) Global and the United Soybean Board collaborated with the International Food Information Council on a survey released in late 2021: “Consumption Trends, Preferred Names and Perceptions of Plant-Based Meat Alternatives”. Key findings included:

  1. PBAs have secured their place on Americans’ grocery lists. Sixty-five percent of survey takers reported consuming PBAs in the past year (from August 2020 to August 2021), with 22% saying they consume them daily and 20% consuming weekly. Of those who have tried PBAs or would consider trying them, 75% say they have (or would) consume them at home.
  2. Perceived healthfulness is the most popular reason for consuming PBAs. Respondents were asked to rank their top reasons for consuming PBAs. The most common motivations included healthfulness (39%, ranked in top 3), high-quality protein (34%) and liking the taste (33%). Heart health and protein content and quality are the top health-related reasons for consuming PBAs.
  3. PBAs enjoy a “health halo” in relation to meat and animal protein. When PBAs were compared with meat/animal protein, survey respondents rated plant-based products higher on healthfulness and environmental sustainability, while meat/animal protein ranked higher in terms of taste and price.
  4. Two in five Americans are interested in soy as a PBA protein source. When respondents were asked about their level of interest among a variety of PBA protein options, the highest level of interest was in protein from vegetables (56% expressing interest), grains (53%), nuts and seeds (52%), and beans and/or lentils (51%). Soy (42%) slightly edged out pea protein (41%). Proteins derived from fermentation or cellular/lab-grown processes were much less popular.
  5. Knowing whether a product is made from soy can influence preferred PBA nomenclature. When shown an image of a PBA burger and told that it was made without animal meat, the top descriptions for the product were “plant-based burger” (39% included in top 3 choices) and “veggie burger” (35%). However, when informed that the product was made primarily from soy protein, soy-specific descriptions rose to the top, including “soy burger” (42%) and “soy-based burger” (39%). This same trend was observed for an image of a PBA product resembling a chicken strip.

It's clear that PBAs are a popular contender when it comes to protein choices, and soy protein plays a key role in Americans’ protein decision-making. As these products continue to become part of our everyday eating patterns, clear communication about ingredients will help align consumer preferences on product descriptions with key messages about soy protein.