GERMANY, Hohenheim. Ever more humans reduce meat consumption in favor of vegetable alternatives. Current marketing reaches however large target group of the Flexitarier not sufficiently.
About 75 million people in Europe eat vegetarian or vegan food, and the trend is rising. Far greater still is the number of flexitarians, i.e. those people who are increasingly concerned about the sustainability of their food consumption and want to limit their meat consumption. But for many consumers who want to replace products of animal origin partially or completely, the search for the right information, including the avoidance of nutritional deficiencies, is a challenge. The EIT food communication project "The V-Place", coordinated by the Research Centre for Bioeconomics at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, deals with the question of how these information gaps can best be closed.
The demand for vegan and vegetarian food, including alternatives to meat, milk or eggs, has increased considerably in Europe in recent years: The market for these 'plant-based foods' is booming and there is no end in sight to this growth trend.
The market for these 'plant-based foods' is booming, and there is no end in sight to this growth trend. "Plant-based refers to all products that are purely plant-based, but which resemble and are intended to replace animal foods such as meat, milk, eggs or other products in terms of texture, taste or appearance," explains Dr. Beate Gebhardt from the Department of Agricultural Markets at the University of Hohenheim, who is in charge of the qualitative sub-study.
"There are also different starting points. Thus in most examined European Union countries - Germany, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain and Poland - official definitions of veganer-vegetarian food are missing", Gebhardt summarizes the results of a questioning of approximately 70 persons - consumers and experts from industry, science and research.
This qualitative survey forms the first part of a two-stage consumer study: In the project "The V-Place", an international consortium of industry and research institutions is looking into, among other things, the attitudes and information needs of consumers in six European countries regarding plant-based foods.
"Even within a country there are differences," Gebhardt knows. "In Germany, flexitarians are often defined as 'people with active reduction of meat consumption' or 'with rare meat consumption', but sometimes also as 'part-time vegetarians'. These different definitions can then also lead to very different numbers: Depending on the definition, market research institute and research method, the proportion of flexitarians in Germany is between 9 and 55%".
Likewise the motives vary with this unclearly defined group substantially, why someone decides for this nourishing form. The same applies to the decision on the type and quantity of consumption of animal or plant-based products.
The Flexitarier is a most interesting target group for plant-based food. They are addressed however so far too little and/or not appropriately, so the realizations from the expert interviews. One reason may be that just this group is particularly difficult to grasp and communication has so far been mainly focused on vegetarians and vegans.
But what are the reasons for consumers to decide for or against plant-based foods? "General health, animal welfare, environmental and climate protection are important motives for the consumption of plant-based foods in all countries, but not the only ones," summarizes Gebhardt.
Other motives also play a role, such as food intolerance or the desire for weight loss, slower aging or a better skin condition. "Interesting is also the desire for 'well-being', i.e. for individual well-being", says Gebhardt. "People are increasingly trying to maintain a sustainable lifestyle, follow recommendations from friends, influencers and brand messages or simply want to try out new things in nutrition - perhaps also to have a say in the trend of vegan nutrition.“
An unappealing taste, a lack of product range or product variety and an excessively expensive price are often cited as reasons for not buying plant-based foods. Sometimes there is also a lack of knowledge about how certain, sometimes very special products should be prepared.
A striking concern is the concern that plant-based foods have too high a degree of processing and too many additives. Especially in the case of meat alternatives that try to imitate the original, experts from the companies surveyed confirm this as justified. Misleading or untrustworthy communication is also cited as a barrier - according to the results of the previous consumer survey.
In the meantime, plant-based foods can be found in all countries, above all in supermarkets and discounters, and to some extent also in organic supermarkets or in specialized online trading. Dairy and meat products both in the animal and in the vegetable variants form the largest market segments.
The variety of vegetable meat alternatives is classified by experts as medium to low. Above all, burger patties and sliced meat as well as sausages characterize the offer. However, there is a general lack of variety, for example in sausages, fresh "meat", ham or country-specific recipes for alternative products. Fish and egg alternatives are also lacking.
In all countries, consumers want more culinary diversity and better availability of plant-based foods. The experts surveyed also expect many improvements and changes in the future. In addition to a stronger focus on organic and regional products, these include a strong improvement in sensory and taste quality and a greater variety - both in terms of ingredients and finished products. In addition to more imitation products, more independent new plant-based foods are to be launched on the market, with much greater emphasis on sustainability and health aspects.
All in all, the results of the qualitative survey show a high and diverse need for basic and practical information about plant-based foods. "We need more; more credible and 'right' - in the sense of target-group specific - information from the right sources", Gebhardt concluded.
Because increasingly the health use of plant-based food is questioned by consumers and the debate is led whether and to what extent a vegane nutrition is health-promoting and/or health-endangering. In addition to scientifically based information, information about the sensory properties of the products, their preparation and availability, and environmental aspects are in demand.
The survey has shown that governmental or scientific institutions are the most credible sources of information. Only to a limited extent are solely vegan or vegetarian organizations suitable channels for an objective presentation. And consumers want to be picked up with information where they already are: On the Internet, in social media, in apps or at the point of sale, i.e. in the familiar local supermarket or discount store.