Customers seeking alternatives to meat would have been hard pressed to find tempeh and seitan in a typical U.S. grocery store a decade ago, but today, these popular substitutes, as well as the emergence of plant-based proteins that emulate the texture and flavor of meat, are part of a plant-based food boom that is projected to reach $140 billion by 2029.
“Flexitarians” are driving the plant-based foods market
Plant-based products are in high demand because people are changing their diets, but it’s not just vegetarians and vegans—representing only 6% and 3% of Americans, respectively—influencing this trend. According to a 2017 DuPont Nutrition & HealthFocus International study, 52% of U.S. consumers are making an effort to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diets. The growing demand for meatless options is being driven by “flexitarians.” As the name implies, flexitarians follow a “semi-vegetarian” lifestyle that prioritizes plant-based foods, while allowing for the occasional meat consumption. So why are more Americans ditching turkey for tofu these days?
Consumer motivations for embracing plant-based foods
People are reducing or eliminating meat from their diets for a variety of reasons, including environmentalism, animal welfare, and food cost reduction, but the primary motivator is improving overall health. In the DuPont study, 96% of respondents cited health as their main reason for reducing meat consumption with 63% listing heart health as a leading health concern. Recent research has confirmed the health benefits of a plant-based diet, including a 2019 U.K. study that found vegetarians and vegans have a 22% lower risk for heart disease compared to meat eaters.
Sustainability is another leading reason individuals are turning to plant-based products. 72% of flexitarians listed the environment as a motivator in the DuPont study. Evidence suggests that reducing meat consumption would help reduce carbon emissions while preserving natural resources like water and land. According to the Vegetarian Society, adopting a vegetarian diet requires two-and-a-half times less the amount of land needed to grow food compared to a meat diet.
Whatever their motivations, Americans are embracing plant-based diets more than ever before with 60% of respondents in the DuPont study describing their current intake of meat alternatives as “permanent.” Local restaurants should take note—plant-based foods are here to stay.