What do consumers want?


Smart Protein recently brought together a panel of expert speakers who shared knowledge gained from market trends, consumer surveys, and retail insights into what consumers are looking for in the plant-based product aisle. Read on to find out more about consumer preferences and how the Smart Protein project is paving the way towards alternative plant-based-protein ingredients and products.

By Collette Rowell

Cheese and meat alternatives still on top

Consumers want more plant-based options and are not satisfied with the current offerings in any product category, says Dr Kai-Brit Bechtold, Senior Research Scientist at ProVeg International. But what are the specific products that stand out and are most desired by consumers?

In ProVeg International’s European Consumer Survey, flexitarians – the main target group for plant-based foods1)The NPD Group 2019: The Future Of Plant-Based Snapshot, available at: https://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/solutions/future-of-food-series/the-future-of-plant-based/ – expressed a high potential demand for plant-based cheese, ready meals, and meat alternatives that mimic meat. Plant-based eaters also stated cheese as their most wanted product, urging manufacturers and retailers to crack the code for tasty, more affordable, and healthier alternatives, as well as different varieties.

Additionally, the survey emphasises the high consumption rates of plant-based milk, meat, and yoghurt, meaning that these products have already been adopted by consumers.

Is there room for innovative alternative proteins?

It’s clear that consumers want more than a vegetable-based burger patty. When Beyond Meat launched in the German market, the product sold out nearly immediately. This leaves an incredible opportunity for innovative alternative products such as plant-based steaks, whole cuts of meat, and fish. In addition, there is a gap to be filled with plant-based baked goods, and the challenge of improving plant-based cheese offerings. Smart Protein is seizing the opportunity and looking at ways to improve existing plant-based products, while also developing the next generation of foods which will be cost effective, resource efficient, and nutritious.

How plant-based and protein go hand in hand

The EU is by no means self-sustaining with regards to protein, explains David Hedin, Consultant at Euromonitor International. This is important to take into account when introducing new alternative proteins: there is an enormous opportunity to replace the soya used in most meat alternatives with new alternative proteins. Furthermore, the population of Western Europe is increasingly focussing on protein in their meals. In a recent survey, the amount of people looking for a high-protein claim has increased by 5% (2020 vs previous year), and those looking for a vegan claim by 25%, aligning perfectly with the goals of Smart Protein.2)Euromonitor Health and Nutrition Survey 2020 Aware of the environmental concerns about animal agriculture, food producers are increasingly trying to meet consumers’ high protein demands with plant-based products. Reducing the off-taste, particularly of legume-derived plant proteins, is a challenge that the Smart Protein project has placed high on its agenda.

What product turnover says about consumers’ behaviour

For Carrefour, the largest retailer in France, consumer demand and innovation is one of the key drivers that is shifting the food sector in a more plant-based direction, notes Nicolas Dhers, Strategic Director of Food Transition. High consumer demand is clearly reflected in the rising sales of vegan and vegetarian products in France: between 2015 and 2019, there has been a sizable increase of 60.4%. This shift is also evident on Carrefour’s shelves – in terms of product rotation, meat alternatives are performing at rates close to their conventional animal-based counterparts, while plant-based milk and yoghurt is being sold twice as fast as the non-plant-based options.

Nonetheless, the search for the sweet spot between clean label, comparable performance to animal-based counterparts, affordability, and naturalness continues. This is an area where the goals of Smart Protein align not only with chains such as Carrefour but also with what consumers are looking for in the products they consume.

Understanding consumers

Meat eaters often agree with the health, ethical, and environmental arguments for consuming plant-based alternatives. Unfortunately, awareness does not drive food choice as much as ease, taste, convenience, and affordability do, says Chris Bryant, Director of Social Science at the Cellular Agriculture Society.

Many of the currently available plant-based products do not meet these criteria enough to tip the scales and drive consumers to change their existing eating habits. These findings highlight the need for alternative products to improve on those attributes so that it is easier for people to align their consumption choices with the internal values many of them already have. Generally speaking, alternative proteins are targeted at consumers who have an ethical focus regarding the environment and factory farming, along with health-conscious consumers. The Smart Protein project creates room for different alternative forms of protein to compete with each other, appealing to consumers who align with the ‘smart’ aspects on the one hand and consumers who focus on pragmatism on the other.

The Smart Protein project aims to deliver exactly what consumers want: New forms of tasty, nutritious, and environmentally friendly plant-based products.


1 The NPD Group 2019: The Future Of Plant-Based Snapshot, available at: https://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/solutions/future-of-food-series/the-future-of-plant-based/
2 Euromonitor Health and Nutrition Survey 2020