Most plant-based meat alternative buyers also buy meat: an analysis of household demographics, habit formation, and buying behavior among meat alternative buyers


Zachary T. Neuhofer & Jayson L. Lusk

Scientific Reports volume 12, Article number: 13062 (2022)

via Nature - Jul 29, 2022




The promise of novel plant-based meat alternatives (PBMAs) to lessen the health and environmental impacts of meat consumption ultimately depend on market acceptance and the extent to which they displace meat in consumers’ diets. We use household scanner data to provide an in-depth analysis of consumers’ PBMA buying behaviors. PBMAs buyers tend to be young, single, female, college educated, employed, higher income, and non-white. About 20% of consumers purchased a PBMA at least once, and 12% purchased a PBMA on multiple occasions. About 2.79% of households only purchased PBMAs. About 86% of PBMA buyers also bought ground meat; however, PBMA buyers spent about 13% less on ground meat. Interestingly, after a household’s first PBMA purchase, ground meat consumption did not fall. The number of households buying a PBMA for the first time fell over the two year period studied, despite the increase in market share in the ground meat market.



In recent years, concerns have increased around the health and environmental impacts of meat consumption1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. Encouraging dietary change toward more plant-based diets has been proposed to reduce dietary-related land-use, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions1,2,9,10. From a public health perspective, substitution to a plant based diet has been estimated to lower the risk of chronic diseases and mortality11,12,13,14. Despite encouragement for dietary change, consumer demand for meat remains high and is growing15. Moreover, there is little public support for policies to tax foods based on health or environmental outcomes16. The current dilemma faced by the industry and policymakers is between persistently high meat demand and a lack of political support for policies that would curb meat consumption. A potential solution is to invest in innovative plant-based meat alternatives (PBMA) that have the potential to induce consumers to willingly transition away from animal to plant-based diets17,18,19,20,21. Novel PBMAs use ingredients such as soy, wheat, pea, and heme to mimic the sensory characteristics and macronutrients of meat.


Interest in PMBAs also stems from potential environmental benefits. Several studies have suggested that reducing meat consumption in favor of a more plant-based diet will lead to better environmental outcomes, which include, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, land use, and water use relative to conventional beef production3,17,18,22,23. However, for these environmental benefits to be realized, consumers must be willing to choose PBMAs over meat options. At this point, much remains unknown about consumer purchase behaviors surrounding PBMAs.


What is known about consumer preferences for PBMAs is primarily limited to hypothetical stated preference surveys16,24,25,26,27, industry and interest groups reports28,29, and analysis of retail scanner data that aggregates over thousands of consumers30. Analysis of household scanner data has only recently been undertaken31. These previous studies have estimated market shares for PBMAs that range from 30% to less than 1%. These estimates depended on how the market is defined (e.g., ground products vs. all beef vs. all meat), the data source used (e.g., stated preference survey vs. retail scanner data), and the unit of measurement (e.g., share of quantities sold or share of sales)16,26,27,28,29,30,32,33. Most estimates of retail scanner data put the dollar market share of PBMA out of all meat sales at less than 1%, a figure that grew rapidly from 2019–2021, but that appears to have stalled in 202228,30. Analysis using scanner data has suggested low repeat purchases of PBMAs and that PBMAs are not a substitute for beef or pork31.


Some studies have analyzed the demographic characteristics of PBMA buyers16,24,25,26,31,32,34,35. These studies found that PBMA consumers are more likely to be younger, higher income, female, more educated, politically liberal, residing in urban areas, and with young children16,24,25,26,31,32,34,35. These prior studies also identified key consumer beliefs associated with PBMA consumption, such as, following a vegetarian or vegan diet, concerns for the environmental impact of meat production, health concerns of meat consumption, and more concern for animal welfare16,24,25,26,36,37,38.


The primary objective of this study is to determine dynamics of the PBMA market and consumer characteristics of PBMA consumers using household scanner data spanning the two year period of November 2018 to November 2020. These rich transaction-level data help inform a number of key unresolved questions about the demand for PBMAs. What are the drivers of PBMA purchases? We expect that demand for PBMAs is stable and growing if consumers are particularly concerned for the environmental impacts of meat production and animal welfare, while being satisfied with the taste of PBMAs. If instead, however, novelty is a key driver, high initial sales may be followed by stagnation in sales, once the novelty of the PBMA products has worn off. Insights into this matter can be explored by determining the extent which PBMA sales are coming from repeat vs. new household purchases. Another key question is the extent to which consumers are substituting away from meat toward PBMAs, in which case the new products are likely to hamper meat demand. Also, if sales of PBMAs are coming from households who do not primarily purchase much meat, the rising market share of PBMAs could be explained by an expansion of the market. Finally, what are the characteristics of people who buy PBMAs? Knowledge of such information can help identify target markets and provide insights into the trajectory of sales.




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