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60% of Consumers Think Meat is More Nutritious Than Plants 🥩🥗

Good Monday, fellow nerds! Hope you were all able to stay warm this weekend as those of us in the Northeast huddled in ever-increasing numbers of layers. 🥶 (And if you’re somewhere really warm…count yourself blessed!)

But there’s something more important to talk about than the weather this week. It’s a “good news, bad news” situation for the plant-based movement.

The good news: More consumers are interested in reducing their meat intake. The bad news: A significant chunk of them haven’t gone 100% plant-based because they’re not convinced they’d get the nutrients they need. 🥗

This pains the health coach and the plant-based foodie in me, so let’s take a look at what’s going wrong and how plant-based companies can change the perception.

Young Consumers Love Flexitarianism

Flexitarianism—defined as eating less meat, but not eliminating it completely—has grown in popularity in recent years, particularly among the younger generations. To explore this dietary trend, a recent poll commissioned by Sprouts Market surveyed 2,000 Americans ages 24 to 29 about their dietary habits. Out of the group, 47% said they were flexitarian, and 43% confirmed the change was “permanent.”

This is pretty big news for the plant-based movement. The past year saw a 29% increase in sales of plant-based products purchased specifically to replace animal products in peoples’ diets, 🍔 and more numbers from the Sprouts poll (as well as other consumer research) reveal the rationale behind it:

  • 69% of consumers feel that healthier eating would give them a better understanding of their bodies
  • 63% of consumers say plant meat is more ethical
  • 53% want better immunity 🤧
  • 44% want to avoid getting sick by adopting healthier lifestyles
  • 12% think going plant-based is better for the planet

This clearly shows health is top of mind, which makes sense in light of everything that’s gone on with the COVID-19 pandemic.

But there’s a bit of a problem with the overall consumer mindset: There isn’t any scientific data to show simply switching to plant meat improves health in the long term. 🥩 Rather, the body of evidence shows the benefits of going plant-based come from eating more whole plant foods. 🍅🍆🌽🥦🥕🧅

Plant-Based is Healthier, but Not as Nutritious?

Compounding the problem is the prevailing idea among 60% of the young consumer population that going completely plant-based is somehow less nutritious than being flexitarian. The Sprouts poll showed 63% of people were hesitant to make a complete switch to a plant-based diet until it met “certain conditions,“ including stacking up nutritionally.

This begs the question: Where did the idea that plant foods are somehow less nutritious come from? 🤔

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

The misconception points back to the overall problem of confused messaging in the food, health and nutrition space. Companies, influencers and gurus alike are touting an array of dietary patterns, each claiming theirs is the only healthy way to eat and taking great pains to point out the supposed shortcomings of other options.

The more consumers hear how plant-based diets are “missing key nutrients” or plant proteins are somehow lower in quality than animal proteins, the harder it is for them to understand the truth behind plant-based nutrition. 🥙

But everyone, including the plant-based community, is missing the real point. The reason plant-based diets began to make their way into the mainstream in the first place is the fact that they deliver more nutrients, not less. It’s a diet centered around actual plant foods that delivers the health benefits consumers are looking for, not simply swapping out meat and dairy for their novel counterparts. 🍨

“Healthier” is Good (and Confusing)

A recent article in FoodDive reveals consumers have been buying more fruits and vegetables. In 2020, sales of organic and conventional produce rose by 14.2% and 10.7%, respectively. Organic produce purchases went up even more in the spring when the pandemic was at its height—over 20%, in fact.

Top performers included:

  • Salads 🥗
  • Berries 🍓
  • Apples 🍏
  • Potatoes 🥔
  • Herbs and spices 🌱

These trends reflect the increased interest in both healthier eating and home cooking. People recognize on some level that eating more plants is good for them, and they’re gravitating toward what they believe to be healthy.

But is the plant-based movement supporting or hindering that trajectory?

Right now, so much of the messaging centers around how imperative it is to completely remove animals from the food system before the global population reaches 10 billion people. 🌎 The overall takeaway can seem to be that developing protein alternatives is the only way to prevent the climate from completely exploding and everyone from starving.

What if it’s a lot simpler than that? What if the plant-based movement simply went with what is already known—that plant-based diets improve a wide range of health markers and reduce the risk of chronic disease—and showed consumers how to make the best choices to reach their health goals?

Those choices might just begin to address the very problems alt protein brands are seeking to solve.

Getting Back to True Plant-Based Roots

Alternative proteins still have a role to play in the plant-based movement, of course. But that role needs to be more clearly defined for consumers.

Plant-based eating began as a small and almost weird niche movement before bursting onto the scene as a way to prevent and reverse chronic disease, improve performance 🏃🏻♂️🏋🏻♀️ and promote a better quality of life. Unfortunately, the plethora of products now jockeying for shelf space can be misconstrued as an invitation to do the plant-based version of a standard Western diet instead of making truly healthy changes.

Plant-based brands need to bridge this gap with messaging that tells the truth about what a plant-based diet is supposed to be and how alt meat, 🍗 cheese 🧀 and dairy 🥛 fit into the picture. It’s essential to counterbalance misinformation by being humble enough to recognize that any dietary pattern can have shortcomings and plant meat isn’t going to solve every climate and health problem.

The rise of the plant-based movement means that companies and brands seeking to point consumers away from animal products have a great responsibility to be accurate in their marketing. Using educational messaging to demonstrate what a plant-based diet really is and how to use alternative products in healthy ways makes the shift more accessible for all consumers. 👨👩👧👦

It all comes down to taking the time to show consumers how to live better. That’s what they want, and the companies that can guide them in making it happen are most likely to be the ones that succeed as the movement goes forward.

Do you think the plant-based movement needs to get back to its roots, or is "future of food" the way to go? 👇🏻👇🏻

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