New Survey Shows Why Plant-Based Alternatives Fall Flat With Some Consumers

Maybe you've passed by them in the grocery store with curiosity (or skepticism); Maybe there's a package sitting in your refrigerator right now. Whether you're a fan or a critic, plant-based meat and dairy brands have emerged as something of a permanent fixture in supermarkets. Once written off as a health-food niche, alternatives like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are becoming household names. (Even McDonald's has gotten in on the action, releasing its limited McPlant burger.)

But although plant-based alternatives might be rapidly growing in number, consumer popularity isn't quite there. In 2021, plant-based meat alternatives only accounted for 2.7% of all retail packaged meat sales, per FoodNavigator USA. And while Burger King's 2019 release of the Impossible Whopper, in part, spurred a 5% increase in sales growth, that number fell to 0.6% by the fourth quarter of 2020, shares CNBC. So, why are plant-based alternatives struggling to attract new consumers? A new study by taste and nutrition company Kerry offers a potential answer (via Refrigerated & Frozen Foods).

Flexitarians aren't satisfied with the mouthfeel

Kerry surveyed 1,500 people across the U.S., U.K., Australia, and Brazil to find out what consumers are hoping for when they bite into a plant-based alternative, via Refrigerated & Frozen Foods. The study found that flexitarians (or flexible vegetarians) pose the biggest challenge to the long-term commercial success of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives. According to the Cleveland Clinic, a flexitarian diet focuses on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts, but still occasionally includes meat and dairy. Flexitarians, Kerry's study concludes, are generally more critical of the sensory idiosyncrasies of plant-based alternatives than vegetarians or vegans; they don't want to sacrifice the taste and mouthfeel for a plant-based option.

Shuoli Zhao, assistant professor of agricultural economics at the University of Kentucky, predicts that alternatives like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat — which more closely resemble the meat-eating experience than long-standing vegetarian options like tofu and tempeh — will change the way people think about plant-based alternatives. "This new generation of plant-based meat, by mimicking the taste and sensory experience of eating real meat, appeals to consumers who are not only vegetarian but also people who are curious about plant-based meat and even meat eaters," Zhao says, via Ohio State News.

From the Kerry survey, it seems plant-based meat and dairy alternatives may have a ways to go before they convince all eaters to go fully vegan.