Understanding the Plant-based Consumer - With Greater Demand Comes Greater Expectations

By Michele Fite, Chief Commercial Officer, Motif FoodWorks (October 5, 2021)


Editor’s Note: Michele Fite was a speaker at the 10th annual Women in Agribusiness Summit, which was held in Minneapolis, September 21-23, 2021. Below is a synopsis of her presentation on “Understanding the Plant-based Consumer”.


Plant-based foods are going mainstream.


Thanks to growing awareness of the health benefits of plant-based diets, and of the climate impacts of animal agriculture, more consumers are seeking out plant-based foods for the first time. The plant-based industry is a $25 billion market that’s growing four times faster than animal-based markets.[1] In 2020 alone, the plant-based dairy market grew 12 percent year-over-year, compared to 3 percent for its animal-based counterparts, while plant-based meat grew 25 percent compared to animal-based meat’s 9 percent.[1]

While the plant-based industry is growing, it’s important to note that there are still gaps in consumer acceptance. Our research at Motif FoodWorks and others’[2] reveal that the biggest need and opportunity to gain wider acceptance is in improving taste and the sensory experience. In fact, two out of three Americans (67 percent) say they would be willing to eat more plant-based foods instead of meat if plant-based options tasted better than they do today.[3]


So how can we get more consumers to adopt plant-based foods? Beyond tastier products, the key is understanding who the plant-based consumer is – and what they want.


Who is the Plant-based Consumer?


Based on our research with more than 2,000 plant-based consumers, the average plant-based consumer is female, millennial, and politically leans liberal. Of the plant-based consumers surveyed, 69 percent were female, 29 percent male and 2 percent not identifying as male or female. Millennials made up 55 percent of the market, with Gen X coming in at 24 percent. Previous generations such as Boomers are slower in plant-based adoption, making up just 12 percent of the category.


What are They Looking For?

The plant-based consumer is looking for more than what’s currently on the market, and are disappointed by the taste, texture, and versatility of plant-based products when compared to the real thing. They expect plant-based products to easily integrate into traditional meals that use animal-based counterparts such as ground meats and shreds. And they want to incorporate plant-based into their lives through simple at-home preparation, and substitute it into comfort foods such as pizza or chicken nuggets.


Where Offerings Fall Short – and How to Fix It


This surge in consumer demand is a major opportunity for the food industry, but it also presents its biggest challenge: making plant-based options that consumers want to buy again and again.


Consumers who are particularly conscious of health, animal welfare, and sustainability no longer need to be convinced of the value of plant-based foods, but most consumers are still skeptical about how they actually taste. Some of these consumers even told us that today’s offerings feel limited. They want to move beyond animal mimics, and are increasingly interested in new, innovative plant-based food forms.


Understanding consumers’ needs and filling those gaps is essential to growing the plant-based category. That’s why at Motif FoodWorks we’re constantly talking with them – and why we believe that you shouldn’t compromise taste and experience when it comes to plant-based foods.


That no compromise approach is behind our recent food-tech breakthroughs that create the rich meaty taste, appearance, and texture in plant-based meat. In fact, when we tested these products in a burger designed with our food tech, 73 percent of core plant-based consumers preferred our showcase burger to an 80/20 beef burger. We’re also hard at work on creating new, plant-based food forms that have the capability to stand on their own and occupy the center of consumers’ plates.


Ultimately, our mission is to make plant-based foods better tasting, more nutritious, and so desirable that people crave them. These consumer insights show that there’s a huge opportunity to do just that. Visit our website and follow us on LinkedIn,Instagram and Twitter to keep up-to-date on our progress and what’s new in the world of plant-based foods.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michele Fite has nearly 30 years of diverse experience across food and consumer goods, including infant formula, weight management, sports nutrition, medical foods, and dietary supplements. Formerly president of Dairy and Culinary with Kerry Ingredient and Flavors, she has held leadership roles at several companies, including DuPont, Solae, and Nestlé. Fite was the founding CEO at Cadena BioSciences, a start-up focused on gut microbiomes. Fite has deep, proven experience heading global strategy, planning, operations, and P&L responsibility for multi-billion dollar portfolios.


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[1] Nielsen & Euromonitor 2020.

[2] Accelerating Consumer Adoption of Plant-Based Meat: An Evidence-Based Guide for Effective Practice. The Good Food Institute 2020.

[3] Climate change and the American diet. Yale University and Earth Day Network 2020.


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