CHICAGO — More people are choosing products with plant protein for environmental reasons, according to a survey released in June by Mattson, which advises clients on new product development. Other findings were pulses are viewed favorably as a source of protein, and many people like the flavor of nuts in milk alternatives.
Barb Stuckey, president and chief innovation officer for San Francisco-based Mattson, gave details on the custom survey, which involved nearly 350 people responding to questions online, in a webinar held as part of ShIFT20, a virtual event run by the Institute of Food Technologists since the COVID-19 pandemic canceled IFT’s annual meeting and exposition.
When asked their top three responses for choosing to eat plant-based foods more often, 65% of respondents listed general health benefits among the top three responses, which ranked first but was down from 82% in 2018. Respondents listing better for the environment among their top three reasons rose to 48% from 31%.
“In large part people are choosing to eat plant-based foods more often because they say it’s better for the environment,” Ms. Stuckey said. “So there is a shift toward more environmental awareness and concern with regard to diet.”
Millennials and people in Generation Z were more likely to list environmental benefits. Baby boomers and people in Generation X were more likely to list health.
Another question asked people what they considered the best source of plant protein. Beans held the No. 1 spot with 57% placing beans among their top three choices, which compared with 59% in 2018. The next two choices also were pulses, with lentils at 45% in 2020 and 37% in 2018 followed by chickpeas at 36% in 2020 and 32% in 2020.
Ms. Stuckey said she recognized many companies are using peas as a source of plant protein in their products, but the percentages for peas were 6% in 2020 and 7% in 2018.
“What this says to us is there is a lot more room for communication here,” she said.
One question asked people what plant protein they thought tastes best in dairy-free alternatives for milk, cheese, ice cream and yogurt. Obtaining the highest percentage for finishing among the top three responses was almonds at 55%, up from 26% in 2018. Second went to coconuts at 50%, up from 23% in 2018, and third went to cashews, which rose to 41% from 10%.
Favorable flavor percentages for all the plant proteins used in dairy alternatives rose from 2018 to 2020.
“People are starting to think that these sources of protein in products that they had actually are pretty darn good,” Ms. Stuckey said.
The survey found 20% said they were trying to eat less meat, dairy, fish and/or poultry in 2020, which was up from 16% in 2018. Another 12% said they were vegetarian and occasionally eat meat, poultry or fish, which was up from 9% in 2018.
The results show flexitarians, meaning people who are cutting down on meat consumption but not giving it up completely, are driving the plant protein growth and not vegans and vegetarians, Ms. Stuckey said. Appealing to flexitarians has led to a trend called “meeting in the middle,” she said. It involves blends of animal and plant protein in items like Aidells quinoa and chicken sausages, a blended mushroom beef burger from Sonic, and products from the Dairy Farmers of America that feature a blend of dairy and almond milk.
When asked if they were eating more plant-based meat products at home, 37% said yes, which was up from 27% in 2018.
“The ubiquity of the plant-based burger really is what is driving this,” Ms. Stuckey said.