It seems meat alternatives are increasingly making their way onto plates across the country as new research from Mintel reveals that more than half (53%) of Canadians say they eat meat alternatives, including one in five (18%) who claim to eat them at least a few times a week.
Opportunity to grow meat alternatives extends well beyond consumers following plant-based diets as just 5% of Canadians say they are vegetarian and only 2% eat vegan diets. A healthful reputation may be helping to drive the category as two in five (21%) Canadians overall agree that meat alternatives are healthier than meat.
A testament to the growing popularity of meat alternatives, global meat substitute launches nearly doubled between 2013 and 2017, growing 90% in the last five years, according to Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD). While Germany leads the way, accounting for 11.9% of global meat substitute launches in 2017, the Canadian market is ripe for innovation as Canada accounted for just 1.4% of launches in the same time frame. Indeed, although meatless burgers (34%) and meatless poultry (32%) are the meat alternatives Canadians are most likely to consume, other meat alternative types are gaining traction among consumers. One quarter of Canadians say they have eaten meatless hot dogs (27%), meatless deli slices (26%) and meatless bacon (23%).
“Meat alternatives’ growing popularity is giving rise to innovation, and while new product development is currently low in Canada, the increase in global launch activity suggests there is opportunity to expand the category in the region given the fact that roughly half of Canadians claim to eat meat alternative products. In an effort to reach those consumers that are less open to eating meat alternatives, brands should focus on traditional product categories like burgers and poultry as an easy entry point, and a means to expand the category into areas such as hot dogs and deli meats,” said Joel Gregoire, Associate Director, Canada Food and Drink Reports, at Mintel.
Despite increasing interest, the largest barrier to eating meat alternatives is meat itself. In fact, the top reason consumers who don’t eat meat alternatives say they don’t eat them is because they prefer meat (69%), followed by not liking the taste of meat alternatives (42%). Price is also a barrier for some as one in five (20%) say they don’t use meat alternatives because they’re too expensive, rising to more than one third (34%) of those aged 18-24.
Meat alternatives still have a ways to go as only 23% of Canadians overall agree that meat alternatives are a sufficient substitute for meat and 16% think that these products taste as good as meat. What’s more, many of those who do eat meat alternatives have a desire for products to more resemble meat as nearly one third (31%) look for meat-like flavours and one quarter (24%) look for meat-like textures when purchasing meat alternatives.
“There appears to be significant room to improve consumer perception of meat alternatives relative to meat. For those who don’t eat meat alternatives, blurring the line between meat and meat alternatives is crucial to winning over new converts. While few Canadians follow vegetarian or vegan diets, many do consume meatless products, suggesting that the true opportunity extends beyond those consumers who avoid meat, to those who love meat but may be looking for some healthy options. Meat alternatives that are indistinguishable from ‘real meat’ stand the best chance of realizing the category’s potential,” continued Gregoire.
Aside from mimicking the taste and texture of meat, consumers who eat meat alternatives are most likely to say protein content (40%) is an important quality when buying meat alternatives. And it seems consumers today are placing more focus on protein. Canadians are more likely to use traditional sources of protein such as eggs (86%), nuts (76%), dairy-based offerings (75%) and beans (71%); however, there is a burgeoning opportunity for adventurous protein sources. In fact, Canadians say that, while they don’t currently consume them, they are interested in trying pea protein (31%), spirulina (26%) and insects (eg cricket powder) (12%).
“As demand for protein in foods outside of meat and other animal-based products grows, the spectrum of proteins that consumers are interested in, or at least willing to eat, appears to be broadening, with many citing interest in emerging ‘buzz-worthy’ proteins ranging from insects to algae,” concluded Gregoire.