What the Veggie Burger Taught Us About Consumers
The veggie burger was invented in the late 1960’s by restauranteur Gregory Sams, owner of SEED, a macrobiotic restaurant in west London. Little did he know that the “vege” patty he created for his hippie dinner guests would become an example of the global trend toward a more healthful, sustainable way of eating. Veggie burgers, alternative milks, and non-animal sources of protein are now a first choice for consumers instead of simply substitutes for people with dietary concerns or allergies. Increasingly, people are interested in vegetarian options and are actively seeking them out.
Beyond Meatless Mondays
Although only 3.2% of Americans identify as vegetarians, 10% of adults say they follow a “vegetarian-inclined” diet. A recent survey found that almost one-third of American consumers occasionally like to skip eating meat and poultry for health reasons and 20% are trying to get more of their protein from sources such as nuts, seeds, and plants. The trend away from animal proteins is also reflected in data that predicts the sale of meat alternatives will reach $5 billion by 2020.
When researchers polled American consumers, they discovered that 29% said they were eating more non-animal sources of protein such as plants, dairy, and grains, compared to a year ago. Although slightly more than half of Americans still prefer to get their protein sources from eggs, nuts, and meat, this is a shift away from the traditional American way of eating. Although most Americans are not completely converting to meat-free diets, the trend indicates that protein alternatives will become another category in America’s dietary repertoire.
Alternative Goes Mainstream
Leading food and beverage marketing research suggests that consumers are interested in new and novel sources of protein. Rice, pea, and hemp proteins are showing up in sports drinks, snack bars, and other foods. Proteins from sea vegetables are another option. And, for the more adventurous among us, insect proteins offer a sustainable option that’s getting the attention of entrepreneurs and top-tier food companies. Although the thought of eating crickets may not be appealing at first, researchers found that milled insect proteins tested positively with open-minded Millennial consumers.
Non-dairy milks also offer consumers different options. In 2015, almond, coconut, and cashew milks overtook soy as the leading alternative, but consumers are also experimenting with brown rice, quinoa, hemp, millet, flax, and oat milks. The market is also seeing an expansion into other dairy categories such as almond and coconut milk yogurt and cheeses. Many of the smaller brands experimenting with dairy-free foods are leveraging their small, artisanal, and natural/organic heritage to further appeal to consumers.
Just as the veggie burger went from niche to mainstream, the growing ranks of novel protein sources and dairy alternatives have appeal for everyday consumers, not just those with special dietary needs. This trend foreshadows a profoundly changed marketplace in which what was formerly ‘alternative’ could take over the mainstream.
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Sources: Mintel North American Food and Drink Trends, Vegetarian Times Vegetarianism in America Survey, Plant Based Food Top Trend of 2016