To varying degrees, Americans are embracing plant-based meats. One recent survey of Americans found that 65% of Americans have consumed plant-based meat alternatives in the past year, with 2 in 5 eating them daily or weekly.1 The most common reasons for consuming plant-based meat alternatives include healthfulness, high-quality protein, and liking the taste.1
However, despite the greater availability of plant-based meats and the considerable media attention they have received, according to Jayson Lusk, PhD, an economist with Purdue University, grocery store sales of plant-based meats were lower in 2021 than in 2020.2 New research provides insight into the types of interventions that might increase the popularity of plant-based meats.3
Before looking at that research, it is worth noting that there is considerable debate about the merits of plant-based meats. On one hand, these products are applauded because research indicates that although vegetarian and vegan consumers will accept plant-based alternatives that lack meat-like sensory properties, omnivorous and flexitarian consumers prefer alternatives that resemble meat (as much as possible).4-7 The new generation of plant-based meats is formulated to emulate the taste and texture of meat (as opposed to, for example, a black bean burger).8 Conversely, there is concern that the people consuming these products are doing so in place of foods such as whole grains, legumes and nuts, the type of whole foods that nutritionists recommend. Now to that new research.3
British investigators conducted a 4-week intervention trial in which young adults were randomized to the control group or the group that was given free plant-based meat substitutes. Participants in the plant-based meat group were provided information about the benefits of eating less meat, recipes for using these products, and were told about success stories in the form of vignettes of people who reduced their meat intake. The control group was given no dietary advice and was instructed to continue to consume their habitual diet. One important aspect of the experimental design of this trial was that although the intervention was only 4 weeks, the investigators continued to follow all study participants for an additional 4 weeks.
In brief, the results showed that the experimental group reduced their meat intake by more than 50% and, although meat intake increased during the post-intervention period (at the end of 8 weeks), it was still reduced by nearly 40% compared to baseline. It was also determined that as a result of the reduction in meat intake, greenhouse gas emissions and land use associated with the modified diet was markedly decreased.
Perhaps the most interesting finding is that the intervention changed psychosocial constructs consistent with a sustained reduction in meat intake. For example, positive attitudes toward eating plant-based meat increased. In addition, the percentage of participants who identified as meat eaters decreased, whereas the percentage of participants who identified as meat reducers increased.
In the opinion of this author, the new generation of plant-based meats, many of which are based on soy protein, can play a role in the diets of both omnivores and adherents of plant-based diets. For the former, these products seem more familiar and allow for an easier entrée into plant-based foods because they emulate the orosensory properties of meat. For the latter, these products provide a convenient way to consume plant protein.
- International Food Information Council. Consumption Trends, Preferred Names and Perceptions of Plant Based Meat Alternatives. 2021.
- Lusk J. Slump in Sales of Meat Alternatives 2021.
- Bianchi F, Stewart C, Astbury NM, Cook B, Aveyard P, Jebb SA. Replacing meat with alternative plant-based products (RE-MAP): a randomized controlled trial of a multicomponent behavioral intervention to reduce meat consumption. Am J Clin Nutr 2021.
- Michel F, Hartman C, Siegrist M. Consumers’ associations, perceptions and acceptance of meat and plant-based meat alternatives. Food Quality Preference 2021;87:104063.
- Reipurth MFS, Hørby L, Gregersen CG, Bonke A, Perez Cueto FJA. Barriers and facilitators towards adopting a more plant-based diet in a sample of Danish consumers. Food Qual Prefer 2019;73:288–92.
- Curtain F, Grafenauer S. Plant-based meat substitutes in the flexitarian age: An audit of products on supermarket shelves. Nutrients 2019;11.
- van Vliet S, Kronberg SL, Provenza FD. Plant-based meats, human health, and climate change. Frontiers Sustainable Food Systems 2020;4.
- Sadler MJ. Meat alternatives – market developments and health benefits. Trends Food Sci Technol 2004;15:250-60.
This blog is sponsored by SNI Global and the United Soybean Board.