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Survey explores plant-based meat perceptions

Plant protein research examines consumer understanding of innovative food products, such as plant-based chickpea burgers.
Photo: GLNC

Plant-based and ‘flexitarian’ eating patterns have surged in popularity over the past few years, prompting the food supply chain to respond with a wide range of products.

With so much industry innovation in this area, a Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC) audit recorded a nine-fold increase in meat-alternative products in Australia since 2015.

A new GLNC study has explored the perceptions and attitudes of consumers and nutrition professionals to plant protein and plant-based meat alternatives in Australia.

More than 600 Australians participated in a survey as part of the study. Of these participants, 65 per cent were general consumers and 35 per cent were nutrition professionals. The survey indicated a quarter of respondents were vegan, while 19 per cent of respondents adhered to a ‘flexitarian’-style of eating, which is mostly plant-based, but includes some animal-based products.

There were significant differences observed between the two participant groups, consumers and nutrition professionals. For instance, more consumers identified as vegan. The most popular reason cited by nutrition professionals for following a specific diet was health, whereas the main reason cited by two-thirds of consumers was ethical concerns. More than one-third of consumers also “strongly agreed” that plant-based meat alternatives are better for the environment than traditional meat.

Consumer perceptions

Where the survey explored perceptions of – and attitudes to – nutrition, participants reported looking for whole, familiar ingredients and iron content on product labels, expecting that both iron and vitamin B12 levels in plant-based meat alternatives would be comparable to red meat.

But the current labelling in the Australian market does not meet this expectation, with less than one-fifth of products fortified with vitamin B12 and only 10 per cent fortified with iron, highlighting a key area of improvement for manufacturers.

Plant-based claims on product packaging were another area of interest. The survey found these claims were of greater interest to consumers than nutrition professionals.

The survey findings also suggest a high level of interest in the plant-based food trend. For example, nearly three-quarters of participants claimed they had tried plant-based meat alternatives and curiosity was identified as the key consumption driver. This finding suggests there is a general desire to experience new food products shared by consumers and nutrition professionals.

Findings from the collaborative study aim to help inform industry direction for plant-based product innovation.

More information: GLNC.

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