- Most Americans have consumed plant-based meat alternatives in the past year, with two in 5 eating them daily or weekly.
- Healthfulness and being a source of high-quality protein are top reasons for seeking out plant-based alternatives.
- Knowledge of ingredients in a plant-based meat alternative can change what Americans prefer to call it.
You’ve likely heard a friend, family member or coworker talk about trying plant-based meat alternatives for the first time, or maybe you’ve noticed these products on the menu of your favorite restaurant or fast-food chain. Perhaps you’ve seen a growing suite of plant-based options at your grocery store.
But just how many people are consuming these products, and how often are they doing so? With the growing interest in and consumption of plant-based meat alternatives, what are our preferences for what to call these newer products? We asked over 1,000 Americans with at least some role in food shopping and decision-making to find out. Here are some key findings:
Plant-based meat alternatives have gone mainstream. Nearly two in 3 (65%) reported eating “products that attempt to mimic the flavor and texture of animal protein but are made with only plant products” in the past year. In particular, 20% consumed them at least weekly and slightly more (22%) said that they consumed them daily. Twelve percent said they had not consumed plant-based meat alternatives over the past year but would like to try them in the future. Among those who say they have consumed or would consider trying plant-based meat alternatives, three in four (75%) say they have or would consume them in their own home; fewer (40%) say they would do so in a restaurant.
Perceived healthfulness is the top reason people opt for plant-based alternatives. When survey respondents were asked to rank their top three reasons for consuming plant-based meat alternatives, healthfulness rose to the top (39% ranked in top three). This was followed by being a source of high-quality protein (34%), liking the taste (33%), environmental/sustainability benefits (23%) and health claims/certifications (23%). Indeed, when plant-based meat alternatives were compared with meat/animal protein, survey respondents rated plant-based products higher on healthfulness and environmental sustainability, while meat/animal protein ranked higher in terms of taste and price.
Of those who choose plant-based meat alternatives because of their perceived healthfulness, the most sought-after benefits were high quality/complete protein (43%), heart health (41%) and protein content (40%).
Knowledge of ingredients in a plant-based meat alternative can change what Americans prefer to call it. Survey takers were provided with an image of a plant-based meat alternative that resembled a burger and told that it was made without animal meat. The most popular descriptions for the product were “plant-based burger” (39% included in their top three choices), followed by “veggie” burger” (35%), “meatless burger” (35%) and “plant-based meat” (29%). Terms like “meat analogue” and “soy meat analogue” were ranked much lower (5% each).
When told that the product was made primarily from soy protein, the top-ranked descriptions became more soy-specific, showing the value of transparency in primary ingredients. “Soy burger” (42%) rose to the top, followed by “soy-based burger” (39%) and “soy patty” (34%). Now, only 22% found “plant-based burger” to be a top descriptor. Similar trends were seen when respondents were shown an image of a strip-shaped product that resembled a chicken tender.
Taken together, this study sheds light on American eating habits as well as what consumers know, understand and perceive about plant-based meat alternatives.
Results were derived from an online survey of 1,001 U.S. adults between the ages of 18-80 that have at least some role in food decision-making and/or food shopping in their household. The survey was conducted from August 26 to August 30, 2021, and results were weighted to ensure proportional representation of the population. This research was supported by funding from SNI Global (formerly the Soy Nutrition Institute) and United Soybean Board, which administers the soy checkoff investments overseen by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.