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McKinsey report highlights growing consumer demand for sustainable ingredients creates market potential for novel proteins

May 8, 2024

The age of the ubiquitous quinoa salad may soon be eclipsed by a revolution in sustainable food options. A new report by McKinsey & Company, Novel proteins: Consumer appetite for sustainably made ingredients, paints a picture of a burgeoning consumer appetite for exactly that – food brimming with eco-friendly ingredients.

The study surveyed over 1,500 US consumers, revealing a significant shift in dietary preferences. A majority (between 49% and 67% depending on the specific ingredient) expressed a willingness to explore new food and beverage products featuring these sustainable ingredients. This openness transcends mere curiosity; it's driven by a confluence of factors.

Health remains a top priority, with 28% of respondents citing health benefits as a key motivator for trying new ingredients. However, taste continues to reign supreme, particularly for older generations. The good news for both health and taste bud-conscious consumers? The study found that taste concerns aren't a dealbreaker. Many consumers are willing to experiment if the product delivers on flavor alongside its sustainable edge.

But what exactly are these novel, planet-friendly ingredients that are piquing consumer interest? The possibilities are as diverse as they are exciting. We could be looking at plant-based proteins like pea or chickpea flour taking center stage, alongside lab-grown meats and even insect-derived protein sources venturing beyond the realm of novelty. While the thought of crickets in your protein bar might raise an eyebrow, the report highlights a crucial opportunity for brands and retailers to bridge the gap between consumer interest and actual consumption.

"Creating categories and highlighting specific product qualities on labels" is critical to drive wider adoption, according to the report's authors. This translates to educating consumers about the sustainability benefits of these new ingredients, while ensuring the taste and overall product experience meet expectations.

The findings echo broader trends highlighting a growing consumer preference for companies that prioritize environmental responsibility. Studies by NielsenIQ and McKinsey itself show a strong correlation between a company's ESG (environmental, social, and governance) initiatives and consumer purchasing decisions.

"This report suggests a vast and exciting market for food products that embrace sustainability while delivering on taste and health," says McKinsey. "By capitalizing on this consumer interest and effectively communicating the benefits of these new ingredients, brands and startups have the potential to revolutionize the food industry and create a more sustainable future for our plates."

The McKinsey report underscores the pivotal role sustainability now plays within the food industry. As consumers become more environmentally conscious and open to innovative food options, the stage is set for a wave of exciting new sustainable ingredients to take center stage in our kitchens. This shift has the potential to not only transform our plates but also reshape the way our food system operates, ensuring a more responsible and environmentally friendly approach to feeding the world.

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