Today, meat-free or meat-reduced diets, once the choice of a very small minority of consumers, are more commonplace. Euromonitor International looks into how the more complex contemporary consumer relationship to meat embraces a list of consumer types from “flexitarians” to vegetarians. These consumers include the health-conscious and green-aware, those who support animal welfare – often boosted by celebrity-led campaigns, religious consumers and thrifty consumers. Today, those excluding or cutting down on meat in North America and Western Europe in particular can choose from an array of table-ready appetising meat substitutes in shops and restaurants including private label offerings.
Factors affecting meat consumption
- Over the last few years, a growing number of consumers have either adopted a meat-free diet by becoming vegetarian or vegan, or have significantly reduced their meat intake. The latter are sometimes known as “flexitarians”, meat-reducers or meat-avoiders;
- Meat is traditionally shunned by certain religious groups (notably Hindus), but the modern vegetarian movement grew up after World War II as a result of world hunger issues and animal welfare concerns;
- More recently, people have begun reducing their red meat intake on the grounds of health, safety and sustainability/environmental issues, as well as a need to reduce costs since the start of the global economic recession;
- The reduction in meat consumption is offering unprecedented opportunities for manufacturers of a variety of meat substitutes, vegetarian packaged foods, nuts and pulses, vitamins and dietary supplements and other meat-free products;
- India has the largest non meat-eating community in the world. It is estimated that 31% of India's largely Hindu population are lacto-vegetarian (consuming milk and honey but no other animal-derived products) while a further 9% consume eggs but no meat.
- Vegetarianism also appears to be fairly common in Taiwan, where 10% of the population does not eat meat; as well as Brazil, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, Israel and the UK;
- By contrast, vegetarianism is still negligible in China and Japan, two of the world's biggest consumer markets. Vegetarianism has been practised for centuries by devout Buddhists in these countries, but is rarely practiced by those who adhere to Buddhism today;
- In China, most consumers could not afford meat in the past and consumption has grown massively as the nation has become richer. However, a nascent vegetarian movement is emerging in China's cities as the urban middle classes are influenced by Western habits;
- In the USA, vegetarianism has grown strongly over the last four decades. Back in 1971, only 1% of US citizens described themselves as vegetarians, but in 2009 a Harris Interactive study revealed that 3.4% of consumers were vegetarian and around 0.8% were vegan;
- Celebrity-led campaigns – often run in conjunction with NGOs such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) – have been a key factor in encouraging consumers to switch to a low meat or meat-free diet. These include the global Meatless Mondays movement;
- In order to widen the appeal of non-meat products beyond the core vegetarian and vegan consumer base, retailers have begun to place them together with other ready meals rather than in a niche “vegetarian” section, and to use the term “meat-free” rather than vegetarian.
Consumer market trends
- An analysis of volume trends of fresh foods in Euromonitor International's database shows that meat was one of the worst performers over the 2005-2010 period. Sales of meat grew by less than 14% over the six year period, ahead only of vegetables, at just under 11%;
- Fish and seafood fared slightly better than meat, with period volume growth of just under 16%. It has benefited from its healthier image, being rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and this has helped it withstand high prices and environmental issues facing the fish industry;
- With busier and more fragmented lifestyles, over the long term consumers in developed markets have been increasingly choosing processed foods such as ready meals and snacks over fresh foods which require a large amount of preparation;
- Nevertheless, fresh foods have been boosted since the start of the recession by factors such as the need to cut costs, trends towards cocooning, the celebrity chef phenomenon and a greater awareness of the health benefits of non-processed food;
- Healthy eating is becoming more important for many and is encouraged by governments who are keen to improve the nation's health. This includes reducing sodium intake, reducing consumption of saturated fats and sugars and increasing intake of fruit, vegetables and pulses;
- In parts of North America and Western Europe – especially the USA and UK – the market for meat substitutes such as soy-based meat analogues has boomed over the past decade, in line with the move away from meat-centred diets. However, elsewhere these are still relatively undeveloped;
- Non meat-based meals are nevertheless still commonly consumed in developing markets, with tofu widely used in dishes throughout Asia, and local specialities such as bean-based congees remaining popular in China;
- According to Euromonitor International's Health and Wellness data, the strongest growth in meat substitutes occurred in the ready meals segment, which high profile manufacturers such as Kellogg (via its Morningstar Farm, Kashi and Gardenburger subsidiaries) and the UK's Quorn Foods are developing strongly;
- A significant consequence of the declining importance of meat in Western diets is the rising demand for vitamins and dietary supplements, as consumers look to compensate for nutrients they may otherwise have obtained from meat or fish;
- Nutrients typically found in animal and fish products that are sometimes lacking in a vegetarian diet include iron and zinc, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, protein and fish oils. These are often purchased as dietary supplements by vegetarians, vegans and meat-reducers.
- Euromonitor International predicts that a gradually growing population of vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, meat-reducers and “vegivores” is set to consume more meat-free foods than ever before over the forecast period, and become increasingly adventurous in their tastes;
- With vegetables touted as being “the new meat” and “veganomics” being one of the key emerging trends of 2010 while most of the population remains staunchly carnivorous, the vegetable divide is expected to widen over the forecast period;
- Overall demand for meat is forecast to continue to rise steadily, fuelled mainly by growth from the poultry sector. Much of the demand for fresh meat will stem from emerging markets such as China and Brazil, where meat is becoming a staple rather than a luxury;
- Fresh fish/seafood is forecast to perform slightly better than meat as a whole, benefiting from its healthier image, as well as improvements to cold chain facilities in emerging markets. However, the focus will be on purchasing local, seasonal fish and more plentiful varieties;
- On a global level, according to Euromonitor International's Health and Wellness database, sales of meat alternatives are predicted to increase by 15% in value from 2010-2015, but there is additional massive potential for non meat-based foods of all types;
- Competition among vegetarian food manufacturers will intensify over the forecast period as meat free foods enter the mainstream. The most successful brands will be those that are tasty, convenient, offer health benefits, are free of animal products and are environmentally-friendly;
- Meat substitutes are currently largely limited to Western markets. However, while the Chinese seem set on increasing their meat consumption, other emerging markets such as Malaysia and India may provide significant growth opportunities for vegetarian packaged food manufacturers.