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CHICAGO -- Only 7 percent of consumers identify themselves as vegetarian, yet 36 percent say they use meat alternatives such as tofu, tempeh and seitan, according to new research from Mintel. What’s more, less than half of the consumers who use meat alternatives are using the products in place of real meat, with 16 percent indicating that they use the products alongside real meat offerings.
"This data suggests that participation in the alternative meat category stretches far beyond necessity and creates an opportunity for future growth based on the products’ ability to meet general consumer food interests, such as health, price, variety and convenience," said Beth Bloom, food and drink analyst at Mintel. "The bottom line is that vegetarians and vegans aren’t the only people eating 'fake' meat. Meat eaters are also exploring this newfound protein superpower."
Health perception plays an integral role in the use of meat alternatives, according to Mintel's findings. One-third of consumers indicate using alternative meat products because they are healthy -- more than any other reason measured in the report. In addition, more than half of users (51 percent) believe the alternatives are healthier than real meat.
As for other reasons cited, 31 percent of users said they are trying to reduce their meat consumption, and another 31 percent said they enjoy the taste of meat alternatives.
"While meat alternatives have the potential to meet a range of consumer needs, targeted health positioning has the potential to attract the specific attention of consumers," Bloom noted.
Not everyone is jumping on the meat-free bandwagon, however. The greatest percentage of non-users (67 percent) indicated a preference for real meat, while 34 percent said they don’t care for the taste of meat alternatives. Another 20 percent don’t like the texture of alternatives.
"While at one time, products in the category were seen as a substitute for meat consumption, the expansion of formats and flavors has allowed the category to grow beyond one of necessity to become one of desire," Bloom added. "Product manufacturers and marketers have a chance to come out from behind the veil of 'substitute' and stake a claim as a food option that stands on its own."