US: Targeting the new vegetarian foods consumer

While the number of consumers who follow strict vegetarian or vegan diets in the US is relatively small, research shows that the number of consumers who are reducing their consumption of animal-based products is on the rise. The drivers to adopt a vegetarian diet are multifold, from animal welfare and environmental concerns, to health and culture issues.

These “occasional” vegetarians (also called flexitarians) can be categorised into two groups, semi-vegetarians and meat reducers. Semi-vegetarians follow a vegetarian diet part of the time, but still eat some meat and dairy products. The numbers have the potential to grow to about one-third of the U.S. adult population, creating an opportunity to attract new customers (Cultivate Research, 2008).

Meat reducers are not trying to follow a vegetarian diet, but are just trying to reduce the amount of meat they eat. One in four US adults reports being a meat reducer, or someone who consumes less meat than they did in the previous year (Cultivate Research, 2008).

An article in the November 2011 issue of Food Technology magazine, published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), details how manufacturers are increasingly targeting these groups with better-tasting products, attractive packaging and product variety.

Due to the increasingly popular flexitarian lifestyle, large food manufacturers like Kraft Foods, ConAgra Foods, General Mills, and others have acquired smaller vegetarian food producers or launched their own lines of vegetarian food products.

Food product developers know that a product will not sell if it does not taste good regardless of its other attributes. At one time, processed vegetarian burgers were bland and tough, and it seemed that only the diehard vegetarians were consumers. But now updates in processing technologies, improvements to ingredients used in meat substitutes, and the use of more sauces, marinades, vegetables, nuts, grains, flavourings, herbs, and spices provide both vegetarian and non-vegetarian consumers with better-performing products. The technologies are improving and we now see products with more meat-like texture which opens up their appeal to new customers.

Up until recently, soy and wheat protein were the main proteins used in vegetarian meal options. But today with so many people having soy and wheat protein allergies, vegetable protein, from sources such as peas, are being used. Beans and chickpeas are especially popular in vegetarian restaurant items as well.

Food Technology: download the full article here