July 14, 2021

Move along flexitarians, make room for healthy veg eaters

Author:
Julie Vigne, Senior Research Director
We talk about meat-free, plant-based and vegan diets – all potentially very similar in terms of ingredients but very different in terms of messaging because they meet different needs and different drivers.

As a shopper marketing expert and living in a part-vegan household, I’ve been fascinated with the growth of the plant-based category both in supermarkets and when eating out.


I’ve spent a lot of time, both working with clients and as a regular shopper and consumer looking at how brands in the sector target vegetarians/vegans, while others focus on flexitarians and how this pans out in terms of messaging and layout in store.

When the results of our latest Consumer Compass came out, this is what I was planning to write about, but the results got me thinking.

Yes, of course dietary requirements are changing. Over a third of UK household report meat-avoiding diets (from vegan to flexitarian). A quarter vow to reduce meat consumption in the next 12 months. And the importance of plant-based diets has increased from 37% in 2019 to 42% in 2021.

This is no doubt driven by the younger generation – 21% of Gen Z say following a plant-based diet is very important to them and 8% of Gen Z households are fully meat-free. The sector has obviously caught onto it, and I am particularly fascinated by the messaging of this exploding sector.

We talk about meat-free, plant-based and vegan diets – all potentially very similar in terms of ingredients but very different in terms of messaging because they meet different needs and different drivers. And of course so much has been said about the rise of flexitarian diets and the headache it gives to category managers when it comes to location in store.

However, what really struck me this wave is the attitudes and behaviours of the Baby Boomers. We never talk about them when we talk about the meat-free and plant-based category. Only 19% of Baby Boomer households have some kind of meat-avoiding diet (2% are vegan, 10% flexitarian). Only a quarter believe following a plant-based diet is important. Over two in three have no intention of changing their meat consumption…. They’re not the target audience.

But what if it was all semantics? Because when we look a bit deeper, Baby Boomers might be the true advocates of a more holistic, richer plant-based diet. They are after all the biggest advocates of fruit and veg as key to a healthy diet, with 48% stating that fruit and veg content is a key to assess how healthy a food is (compared to only 27% of Gen Z). And among meat-eaters, they are just as likely as GenZ to attempt to reduce meat consumption in the next year (just over a quarter for both age groups).

However, their motives are slightly different. Although the environmental impact of meat production and animal welfare is top of mind for all age groups, health benefits are a much stronger driver for the older generation.

So is the plant-based sector missing a huge opportunity by not focusing on the needs of Baby Boomers? Because from where I’m standing, it looks like this generation is a huge untapped market of health-food seeking flexitarians in all but name. And they’re probably not the only ones who would engage with a positive, healthy, pro-veg message much more than an anti-meat one.

Also, if you’d rather talk about where the plant-based burgers should be located in store, meat aisle or plant-based deli aisle, we can talk about that too.

The Consumer Compass (including the Grocery Eye) is a self-funded study from Savanta running every quarter with a n=2,000 UK nat rep sample.

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