#ConsumerCorner: Meat-free food is here to stay – so say the trends experts
With supermarkets ramping up operations as the so-called golden quarter reaches a crescendo, bosses will also be finalising their plans for next year, eyeing up opportunities and trying to predict the next big trend.
One area of soaring demand in recent years has been for plant-based foods and the question in boardrooms will be whether this can continue - or have we had our fill of fake meats?
Reading media coverage in recent months, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a passing fad for the more woke consumers amongst us.
But having leafed through a raft of newly released trend reports in the food and drink sector, it appears experts believe this couldn’t be further from the truth.
They state demand is only set to grow, in part because awareness of environmental sustainability ratchets up but also as producers continue to evolve their products from simply imitating meat, to making sure they can be as tasty and healthy as possible.
There are several factors behind the popularity of plant-based products.
Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic consumers have increasingly taken more of an active approach to nutrition, paying greater attention to what is contained within the food and drink products they buy, seeking out natural ingredients they can easily recognise.
One of the criticisms since the birth and growth of the first slew of plant-based products was – it is all well and good creating a plant-based burger that looks like a burger and tastes like a burger, and even bleeds like a burger, but if it’s full of ingredients that no one’s heard of, that’s enough to put consumers off.
Health groups have also warned that despite the appearance of being a healthy alternative, many meat-free products overly rely on sometimes dangerous levels of salt for flavour – certainly one route to people’s hearts but perhaps for the wrong reasons.
Therefore, producers have been working hard to improve recipes to appeal to health-conscious meat eaters keen to cut back on meat consumption without going fully vegan.
As a staunch carnivore myself, even I have found I’m now partial to a plant-based dish. For me, it’s more about it tasting good rather than replicating the sensation of tucking into a burger.
Another key area flagged in the trend reports is sustainability.
The David Attenborough effect has well and truly put the topic front of mind and many consumers are now taking more care to choose food and drink products or brands that are authentically taking steps to be more environmentally friendly such as using more sustainable production processes or ingredients.
Sustainability is closely linked to the rise in flexitarian diets, with a growing number of shoppers consciously choosing meat-free alternatives as part of an eco-friendlier mindset.
In January of this year, one in eight consumers said they followed a flexitarian diet, according to a survey by food producer Whole Food Earth, and experts believe this will be even higher in 2024.
As a result, it’s no major surprise that the plant-based offerings adorning our supermarket shelves have grown considerably over the last year, with most supermarkets now offering dedicated sections in store.
Consumers can expect to see the plant-based evolution continue well into the new year and beyond, with experts suggesting the expansion will also be driven via meat-free ready meals – lentil chilli con carne anyone? – alongside developments in healthier and tastier options.
With choices improving and health-savvy shopping on the rise, the plant-based future is blooming and unlikely to wither any time soon.