With increased interest in ‘meat-free’ and ‘plant-based’ products from curious meat eaters, Alex Black asks AHDB how farmers can react to this trend.
Building brands and pitching premium meat products to appeal to health-conscious ‘flexitarians’ could bring opportunities for farm businesses.
There has been increasing interest in ‘plant-based’ meat and dairy alternatives and lab-grown meat as the public considers cutting back on meat due to perceived health and environmental benefits.
But AHDB’s ‘Consumer focus: the rise of plant-based food products and implications for meat and dairy’ report revealed 89 per cent of buyers of ‘meat-free’ products also purchased meat.
AHDB senior consumer insight analyst Susie Stannard said this highlighted opportunities for farmers from the British public’s desire to try new things.
Some growers might be able to directly benefit from these markets by growing edible pulses or in-demand vegetables and fruits.
But it was not all doom and gloom for livestock and dairy, with opportunities arising from consumer appetites for healthy, higher welfare and sustainable options.
Ms Stannard said farmers needed to produce what the market was looking for.
She said: “Quality and taste will become a key differentiator. Sensory elements of meat eating, such as texture, taste complexities and aroma, are much harder for alternatives to replicate.”
And this meant meeting specification would become even more important.
For dairy, the commoditisation of the market has meant premium dairy-free brands have encouraged people who consume dairy to ‘trade-up’.
Ms Stannard said: “The alternatives have been well-branded and marketed in a sophisticated and interesting way. Alternatives are particularly appealing to younger consumers: according to Kantar usage, millennials are 10 per cent more likely to consume free-from dairy products.”
But repeat purchases were low, suggesting the ‘sensory’ appeal of these products could not compare to dairy.
She said: “There are clearly opportunities for the dairy category to innovate to capitalise on this trend, with new and different products with a better taste profile than the alternative sector.”
Organic and free-range production, both in dairy and meat, could also be areas for expansion.
Buzzwords which suggest naturalness, such as grass-fed and outdoor-reared, also appealed to consumers’ nostalgia for ‘real food’.
For flexitarians and the health-conscious, including parents looking to get children to eat vegetables, ‘hybrid’ products could appeal, including both meat and vegetables.
Value can be added by offering convenience, such as meat in marinades and telling the story behind the brand.
Ms Stannard: “Heritage and values have often been forgotten in the race to be low-cost.”
But the industry needs a joined-up approach to avoid undermining these efforts and build consumer trust.
“Minimise any instances of poor welfare practices that may drive negative publicity.
“The industry needs to ensure Brexit does not lead to a race to the bottom in welfare standards. Seek opportunities to pro-actively raise welfare standards ahead of legislation.”
Social media and initiatives such as Open Farm Sunday were also valuable in showcasing the ‘positive and human face of farming’.
MFP category is high-value
RETAILERS needed to remember the value of the meat, fish and poultry (MFP) category far outstrips ‘plant-based’ and can often lead to high-value baskets, encouraging purchases of items such as wine.
They also needed to bear in mind other emergent trends in which meat played a major part, such as low-carb and paleo.
Ms Stannard suggested driving convenience by offering solutions such as placing meat alongside vegetables and spices to keep ‘curious’ consumers in the MFP category.
“Look for opportunities to get more vegetable content into traditional meat-based ready meals to appeal to flexitarians.”