Vegetarian, flexitarian, vegan, pescatarian—these labels are increasingly bandied about restaurant dinner tables, and not by people who order tofu but then scarf down prime rib in the privacy of their own homes. The numbers show that consumers are eating less meat. According to a Euromonitor International report, meat was one of the worst performers between 2005 and 2010, with sales growing less than 14 percent.
While personal health and animal welfare remain the two largest reasons for eschewing meat, the planet's health is quickly climbing the ranks as an incentive. Science supports this sentiment. A recent study at the Vienna Institute of Technology found that eating less meat is more beneficial for reducing environmental damage than switching to only organic produce.
Euromonitor predicts that a gradually growing population of vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, meat-reducers and "vegivores" is set to consume more meat-free foods than ever before, and become increasingly adventurous in its tastes. What does this mean for natural grocers and meat retailers?
Meat-free opportunities for natural retailers
While conventional retailers and charcuteries may be worried by the meatless trend, natural products retailers are already well poised to serve consumers looking for meat-free options. Natural retailers have always positioned themselves as the original, eat-less-meat proponents in marketing and messaging, said Jay Jacobowitz, owner of Retail Insights, a consulting company for independent natural retailers.
"Retailers can win over customers by offering 'complete protein' recipes, demos, show-and-tell with bulk foods and food preparation for all meal periods: breakfast, lunch, dinner and on-the-go snacking,” Jacobowitz said. Clearly labeled vegan or vegetarian options in the deli can also lure shoppers, he added.
When it comes to stocking meat-free options, natural retailers are in luck. The reduction in meat consumption is offering unprecedented opportunities for manufacturers of a variety of meat substitutes, vegetarian packaged foods, nuts and other meat-free products, according to Euromonitor. The strongest growth in meat substitutes occurred in the ready meals segment, with high-profile manufacturers such as Kellogg's (via its Morningstar Farm, Kashi and Gardenburger subsidiaries) and the United Kingdom's Quorn Foods.
At Berkshire Co-op Market in Great Barrington, Mass., consumers are increasingly looking for meat analogs that are not genetically modified and minimally processed. “Sunshine burgers and tempeh are increasingly popular,” said Daniel Esko, grocery manager. Also, products that are organic or part of the Non-GMO Project are resonating with customers, he said.
The store has been experiencing more consumers who want to learn about eating less meat whether it’s via a vegan or vegetarian diet or simply cutting back, said Matt Novik, marketing and communications manager.
Appealing to beyond vegetarians and vegans
In order to widen the appeal of non-meat products beyond the core vegetarian and vegan consumer base, retailers have begun to place these products together with other ready meals, rather than in a niche “vegetarian” section. The label “meat-free” is also commonly used, according to Euromonitor.
There’s also opportunity to educate and steer consumers toward the supplements aisle. A significant consequence of the declining importance of meat in Western diets is the rising demand for vitamins and dietary supplements, as consumers look to compensate for nutrients they otherwise may have obtained from meat or fish, such as vitamin B12 and omega-3s.