LAS VEGAS — Steven Walton said he thought his daughter was a vegetarian, but she corrected him. She does not consider herself a vegetarian because she eats her mother’s meatballs whenever she visits.
His daughter’s stance reflects a general attitude that people have, said Mr. Walton, general manager of HealthFocus International. People, especially those in the United States, do not wish to be labeled, which means a broader market may exist for plant-based protein beyond people who claim to be vegetarian, vegan or “flexitarian” (those who eat meat sparingly, such as once per week).
|Steve Walton, general manager of HealthFocus International|
“We love diets, but we do not claim that we are on a diet,” Mr. Walton said June 28 in Las Vegas during a presentation at IFT17, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition. “We love to dabble, but we are not a vegetarian.”
Mr. Walton pointed to a 2016 U.S. study from HealthFocus International, St. Petersburg, Fla., showing 13% of respondents said they considered themselves vegetarians and 1% said they considered themselves vegan. He said while only 17% of Americans said they were eating a plant-based diet either exclusively or predominantly, another 60% said they were cutting back on meat-based products.
So despite the low percentages for people claiming to be vegetarian or vegan, “plant- based eating is a game-changing trend,” he said.
Instead of marketing heavily to vegetarians and vegans, food companies could promote plant-based protein products for the five reasons consumers in the Health Focus International study gave for eating protein: healthy diet, weight management, building muscle, increased energy and protein keeps them full for a longer time.
Mr. Walton also pointed to data from Innova Market Insights, Duiven, The Netherlands, showing global product launches with a plant-based claim climbed to 971 in 2016 from 194 in 2012, with the number of U.S. launches rising to 320 from 94.
“The other interesting thing about protein is, more may not necessarily be enough, and this is fascinating,” Mr. Walton said.
People generally eat enough protein already. It is not one of the under-consumed nutrients mentioned in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020.
“Most consumers in the U.S. know that they do get enough protein,” Mr. Walton said. “So they get this. We do eat a lot of protein. Our diets are filled with that. We get it.”
The desire to still consume more protein may mean both plant-based protein and meat-based protein could flourish.
“I really do not see this so much as a battle between the two of them,” Mr. Walton said. “I think it’s a false narrative. I think it’s a parallel universe. It’s not that people are running away from meat.”
Maybe 5% to 10% of people are rejecting meat, but it’s a niche market and not a mainstream one, he said.‘’That is not what is driving this revolution in plant-based eating,” Mr. Walton said. “I think it’s fool’s gold if you go down that route. These (meat protein and plant protein) are parallel universes, equally powerful and equally with opportunity to grow.”