Views on plant-based substitute products

Views on plant-based substitute products

Hohenheim researchers are investigating the acceptance of plant-based alternatives to milk and meat as part of an EU project.

Pflanzenbasierte Alternativen zu Fleisch und Milchprodukten sind bei Flexitariern besonders gefragt.
Plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products are particularly popular with flexitarians.

About 75 million people in Europe follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, and, as flexitarians, even more reduce their meat consumption and are specifically looking for plant-based alternatives. However, little is known about this group of consumers, nor about their need for information on plant-based foods. A communication project coordinated by the University of Stuttgart wants to close this gap. There is no publication on the subject yet, but first results are already available and should soon be available as a white paper.

Focus on six EU countries

The EU-funded project "The V-Place - Enabling consumer choice in Vegan or Vegetarian food products" is a two-stage consumer study that examines the key factors influencing the choice of plant-based foods and identifies the information needs of consumers in Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain. "Plant-based" refers to all products that are of purely plant origin but which resemble and are intended to replace animal foods such as meat, milk, eggs or other products in texture, taste or appearance," explains Beate Gebhardt from the University of Hohenheim, who is in charge of the qualitative sub-study.

Many different motives

A survey of about 70 people - consumers and experts from industry, science and research - revealed a great deal of uncertainty. Vegan or vegetarian products are not uniformly defined in the countries surveyed, nor is the term flexitarian. "Depending on the definition, market research institute and research method, the proportion of flexitarians in Germany is between 9 and 55 percent," reports Gebhardt. The motivations of people who want to consume less or no meat also vary. In addition to their own health, animal welfare, environmental or climate protection, incompatibilities or the desire to lose weight are among the motives.

Little choice, high prices

The study also examined the reasons for rejecting plant-based foods. Common reasons are unattractive taste, too little or no supply and high prices. Consumers also complain about the high level of processing and many additives, especially in meat alternatives.

With regard to undersupply, the study was able to show that this concerns, for example, tasty alternatives for cheese, including specific kinds such as feta or fondue, as well as meat, fish and egg alternatives. Exceptions are burger patties, sliced meat, sausages and dairy alternatives. Respondents are looking for more variety and products that are convincing in terms of taste or texture. Independent plant-based products are also in demand, especially those that take sustainability and health aspects into account.

Great need for information

Consumers have a great need for credible information on general issues such as health, as well as on specific product characteristics which are often not apparent from the information on the packaging. "We want to bring this type of nutrition closer to the population in Europe - with solid information that can be understood by everyone," is how Klaus Hadwiger from the Research Centre for Bioeconomy at the University of Hohenheim, who heads the project, sums up the further objective. "There are still many misunderstandings about plant-based nutrition. We want to change that."