A new report by FMI, the Food Industry Association has found that the COVID-19 pandemic has boosted consumers’ focus on healthy eating – and plant-based products, including plant-based seafood, have been among the winners.
FMI’s 2022 Power of Plant-based Foods and Beverages was supported by NielsenIQ and provides an overview of the plant-based industry, highlighting consumer trends, and patterns. Arlington, Virginia, U.S.A.-based FMI does research on a wide range of food items, including seafood. To learn about consumer preferences, FMI conducted a consumer survey and interviews, digital ethnography, retail, and manufacturing interviews, alongside a sales-data review.
“As the lens of plant-based expands beyond meat and dairy alternatives and we see ‘plant-based’ marketing claims on food and beverage products, the segment is now worth nearly USD 10 billion [EUR 9.7 billion] total wellness,” NielsenIQ President Sherry Frey said. “This research comes at a critical inflection point that will help the industry understand consumers and their drivers around plant-based decisions.”
The report found that over the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthy eating has become more prevalent, with 27 percent of shoppers placing an increased focus on shopping for groceries while aware of the impact on cardiac health, 31 percent focused on good fiber content, and another 31 percent focused on overall health. As a result, practical and realistic eating trends have increased in popularity, including plant-based products.
“Our ethnographic research suggests consumers are seeking out plant-based foods and beverages primarily for both taste and nutrition,” FMI Senior Director for Health and Well-being Krystal Register said.
The report fpcused on plant-based food and beverage perspectives relating to 10 segments – confusion about plant-based, efforts to select these foods and beverages, importance of taste and nutrition, top foods consumed, meat-eating habits, key shopper demographics, trial and error experimentation, barriers to repeat purchases, location of items, and future buying trends.
When studying shopper experimentation, the research concluded that approximately half of shoppers (42 percent) invest either a lot or some effort into actively choosing plant-based foods or drinks.
“More than 40 percent of shoppers at least occasionally eat a meat, dairy, or seafood alternative, but dairy alternative sales are more than twice those of meat alternatives,” FMI Director of Research and Insights Steve Markenson said. “The plant-based foods most likely to be regularly consumed by shoppers are naturally plant-based – fruits and vegetables (75 percent) and beans, nuts, or grains (47 percent)”.
The report found across the nutrition and health world, there is a lack of consumer understanding with the term “plant-based,” emphasizing the importance of clarifying the confusion. Although the report states there is no regulatory definition for the term, it expands further than vegan and vegetarian lifestyles. The plant-based approach provides a “more-flexible approach that can be personalized, sustained, and potentially proven very beneficial to overall health and well-being.”
The report also highlighted the growing amount of innovation in plant-based seafood, aligning with consumption trends. Taste is the primary factor for consumer behavior, with health factors following close behind. Age demographics play an important role when analyzing consumer trends as well, the report found. Gen Z and millennials are the two most likely age groups to consume seafood, meat, and dairy. However, among all shoppers approximately half are open to trying plant-based animal solutions.
The report found plant-based alternatives are eaten regularly by 12 percent of consumers, 17 percent of consumers eat them on occasion, and 60 percent of all shoppers concluded that their preferences when purchasing plant-based seafood rely on taste, and appearance compared to real meat and seafood counterparts, the report found. FMI found “frequent seafood consumers are more likely to have tried (13 percent) or are likely to try (51 percent) plant-based seafood alternatives than occasional seafood consumers.”
The report concluded by suggesting next steps the plant-based industry should take: analyzing consumer insights, exploring food trials, enhance navigation, considering emerging perspectives, and prioritizing shopper education. Since only a small percentage of shoppers are willing to try plant-based foods, according to the report, experimentation and trials will continue to ensure more consumer uptake.
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