Meet the New ‘Meat’ Eater

Meet the New ‘Meat’ Eater

Meat alternatives have made a big splash in consumer packaged goods (CPG), and sales are on the rise. But are manufacturers and retailers doing enough to educate consumers in this space? Getting consumers to try trendy plant-based foods is one thing, but encouraging long-term adoption and lifestyle change is another.  

Today’s shoppers are, in many cases, omnivores, but they’re playing the field when it comes to exploring meat alternatives in their search for dietary protein. In fact, protein-seeking consumers are more likely than ever to consider all the options available to them. Nielsen Homescan consumer purchase metrics indicate that 98% of meat alternative buyers in America also purchase meat products. Conversely, 21% of U.S. meat buyers, also purchase meat alternatives. The implications of this tie back to trusting your choices.

Consumers will choose what they trust and believe in. When it comes to protein options today, product availability and access aren’t the issue. In the U.S., 15% of all food and beverage sales come from products that support plant-based diets. Additionally, products that contain a protein base of spelt, seitan or lentils have generated more than $620 million. With such mainstream accessibility to alternative proteins, consumers won’t just need awareness, they need to be convinced to continue to buy. Brands need to clearly and consistently demonstrate why their product best fits the lifestyle and health aspirations of the end user.

How can you do this? You can start with transparency and education. It sounds simple, yet 39% of products that meet a plant-based diet do not specify being clean, simple, sustainable or free from artificial ingredients on product labels. Meat alternatives are inherently processed. Brands need to therefore reassure consumers of the good that’s gone into their products in order to maintain trust and drive repeat purchasing.

Alignment with social and environmental action can also ensure continued growth of meat alternative sales. One area to explore is the impact of livestock on climate change. Among Americans interested in the impact of livestock on climate change, 61% of those surveyed say they would reduce their meat consumption, 43% would replace meat-based protein with plant-based protein alternatives and 22% would become vegetarian or vegan in order to effect positive change. When appropriately positioned, consumers will drive major personal change to contribute to meaningful social impact.

It’s also important to remember that as the allure of newness and trendiness fades, consumer perceptions about how the product pays back the planet and those who live on it will remain. The consumer will want to be able to define what’s in that meat alternative burger, or understand exactly what makes it a healthier or better choice. In the same way margarine (down -22.5% in annual sales), sucralose (-2.6%) and soy milk (-11.4%) have had to fight for their keep as “alternatives,” the space for meat substitutes is ripe with opportunity but poised for scrutiny (1).

Read more in our latest Total Consumer Report.


  1. Source: Nielsen Retail Measurement Services, inclusive of Nielsen’s Total Food View, Total U.S. All Outlets Combined (xAOC), 52 weeks ended May 25, 2019 vs. year-ago.