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In 2016, an Ipsos Mori study indicated a 360% increase in veganism over the previous ten years. Recent data suggests the subsequent two years have seen growth closer to 640%.
The existence of such studies and the media attention they receive is fuelling the propagation of plant-based SKUs in retail aisles up and down the country, with Tesco and Sainsbury’s own label ranges leading the charge.
A recent study found that a third of British consumers would switch to plant-based burgers immediately if they matched the real thing. This is important, because while that moment is not yet upon us, plant-based protein is a fast-moving, hi-tech feast.
It has backers who are well-funded and experienced in creating and marketing rapid-growth consumer brands. Indeed, it’s tempting to speculate on the coincidental nature of huge investments in plant-based NPD, and the explosion of media interest.
Moreover, the increasing sophistication of protein science to accelerate innovation in this burgeoning space, means that brands will target consumer groups in ever more personalised ways, customised to specific lifestyle, flavour, texture and taste preferences.
There’s no doubt that we’re witnessing an important shift. But the traditional meat industry is still very far from a crisis.
Our own research into dietary habits across the UK suggests that veganism and vegetarianism, while increasingly popular in urban areas and with the young, is still yet to resonate as universally as the hype would have us believe.
And for plant-based products, there are still question marks over sustainability. While overcoming widespread consumer reticence will be a significant challenge.
Our Food and Drink Trends 2018 report suggests consumers are reluctant to spend time exploring the micro-details of labelling – which we suspect might hinder mass adoption of the new-fangled, hi-tech products.
But interest in issues such as animal welfare, sustainability, authenticity, and Britishness will play into the hands of meat manufacturers who are exemplary on such matters
In brand strategy terms, for traditional manufacturers these are issues that are eminently ownable, and it’s up to the meat industry to be proactive in its approach
Consumers who buy less meat are more likely to seek premium products, and the opportunity is there for the meat industry to wrestle back ownership of the conversation on issues of authenticity, trust and certainly Britishness.
OUR CONCLUSION? There’s no need for meat manufacturers to break the emergency glass yet, but quality over quantity may well be a thought for the future, as consumers buy less and potentially begin substituting meat for plant-based alternatives.
This means that now more than ever manufacturers need to understand consumer motivations and how to market the specific characteristics and benefits of their products in ever more compelling ways.
Download the full 2018 Food and Drink Report from The Grocer.
Plant-based meat brands to watch:
Anna Donaghey is Bray Leino's Director of Strategy.