When it comes to meat alternatives made from plant protein, consumers use “plant-based” as a top descriptor and indicate a strong preference for clear and accurate terms. Newly published research offers insights into consumers’ perceptions of plant-based meat alternatives and is helping guide terminology used by the soy industry.
The International Food Information Council (IFIC) recently released the results of an August 2021 survey conducted on consumers’ perceptions and behaviors related to plant-based meat alternatives defined as products that attempt to mimic the flavor and texture of animal protein but are made with only plant products. The findings offer a new perspective on how often Americans consume these products, their reasons for doing so, and their preferred terminology– all of which showcase the role soy protein can play in the industry.
“This research confirms that consumer interest in plant-based meat alternatives continues to grow and is driven primarily by the quest for health. Consumers are drawn to the nutritional benefits this category of food can provide,” said Cintia Nishiyama, Global Product Marketing Lead for IFF, a member of SNI Global. “Sustainably produced soy contributes high-quality protein to plant-based meat alternatives and may offer numerous health benefits – such as improved heart health.”
According to the survey results, a majority of Americans – 65 percent – have consumed plant-based meat alternatives in the last year and another 12 percent would like to try them.
Respondents identified healthfulness, high-quality protein, and taste as the most attractive attributes of plant-based meat alternatives for consumers. Of those who would consume plant-based meat alternatives because of healthfulness, high quality/complete protein, heart health, and protein content were the top reasons.
This is where products made with soy protein have an advantage. Soy protein carries an FDA heart health claim and is one of the few complete, high-quality plant proteins. Sixty percent of consumers surveyed rated soy-based meat alternatives favorable for healthfulness.
“Through innovation and persistence, U.S. soybean farmers continue to grow high-quality, sustainable soy protein to feed consumers domestically and across the globe,” said Kevin Wilson, SNI Global and United Soybean Board member, and Indiana soybean farmer. “I am glad to see consumers’ are interested in making it part of their meals and recognize its healthfulness.”
When it comes to the words consumers prefer when describing plant-based meat alternatives, consumers lean toward “plant-based” as the top descriptor when the primary protein ingredient is unknown. “Veggie” and “meatless” were the next two most popular terms. “Meat analogue,” “imitation meat,” and “meat substitute” were lower on the list of consumer preference.
The survey found that consumers favor specificity when describing these products. When consumers were told the protein source of the plant-based meat alternative, they included that ingredient in the descriptor. For example, a burger made primarily from soy protein was described as a “soy burger,” “soy-based burger,” and “soy patty.”
The study, partially funded by the Soy Nutrition Institute Global and the United Soybean Board, included 1,001 interviews of adults 18-80 years of age and was weighted to ensure proportional results. The Bayesian confidence level for the interviews is 3.5, which is roughly equivalent to a margin of error ±3.1 at the 95% confidence level.
Soy Nutrition Institute (SNI) Global, formerly Soy Nutrition Institute, is a 501(c)(6) non-profit corporation that funds research and shares evidence-based information on the impact of soybeans and soy ingredients for human health and nutrition. For more information about the Soy Nutrition Institute Global, visit www.SNIGlobal.org.
This press release was partially funded by the United Soybean Board.