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Most Europeans are reducing their meat consumption, EU-funded survey finds

November 7, 2023

A pan-European survey, called Evolving appetites: an in-depth look at European attitudes towards plant-based eating and funded by the EU’s Smart Protein project, has found that 51% of meat eaters in Europe claim they are actively reducing their annual meat consumption, up from 46% in 2021.

The primary motivation for reducing meat consumption is for health reasons (47%), especially in Romania and Italy, followed by environmental concerns (29%), mostly in Denmark and the Netherlands, and animal welfare (26%), mostly in Germany and the Netherlands, the survey found.

This latest survey follows on from a previous Smart Protein survey which was published in 2021 and called What Consumers Want. It finds that promising changes in EU consumer preferences and behaviors have been made over the past two years.

“The new report provides a deeper understanding of the long-term potential of the plant-based sector and offers proven practical recommendations so that further growth can be sustained,” stated Jasmijn de Boo, CEO of food awareness organization, ProVeg International.

“Increasing numbers of people are choosing to reduce their meat intake and policy makers and industry can use this knowledge to make respective decisions on the production and promotion of plant-based foods,” de Boo added.

The survey was carried out by ProVeg in partnership with the University of Copenhagen and Ghent University.

In total, 7,500 people in 10 European countries – Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, UK – were asked about their attitudes towards the consumption of plant-based foods, their trust in these products, their current consumption habits and the key drivers of their food choices.

Of the highlights among the results, 51% of European meat consumers claim to be reducing their annual meat intake, up from 46% in 2021.

Health emerges as the most significant factor influencing the reduction of animal-based food consumption in specific European countries, with 47% of respondents identifying it as the primary reason for their dietary shift.

A total of 27% of European consumers identify as flexitarians, which signifies a 10% decrease compared to the figure recorded in 2021 (30%).

Interest in flexitarian dietary lifestyles transcends generational boundaries, with 29% of Boomers, 27% of Gen X, 28% of Millennials, and 26% of Gen Z identifying as flexitarians.

Around 66% of Europeans claim to consume legumes at least occasionally, with 53% expressing a desire to consume them more frequently, making legumes the favourite plant-based food for European consumers.

On average, 28% of Europeans consume at least one plant-based food alternative at least once a week, up from 21% in 2021.

Home consumption of plant-based alternatives for convenience takes the lead at 67%, and supermarkets remain the primary source for plant-based purchases at 60%.

Additionally, 46% of Europeans report an increase in their trust in plant-based alternatives when compared to two years ago.

Meanwhile, 62% of respondents are in favour of tax-free food products that support environmental and health values.

And 46% of Europeans report have adopted non-meat-based dietary lifestyles for over two years (flexitarians, vegans, vegetarians, pescatarian).

“As stated in the Farm to Fork Strategy, alternative proteins, such as plant, microbial, or marine proteins, is one of key areas of research for a sustainable, healthy and inclusive food system,” added Cindy Schoumacher, Policy Officer at the European Commission.

“The aim is to stimulate food consumption that is sustainable in both health and environmental aspects, highlighting the importance of plant-based diets," Schoumacher continued. "The Smart Protein project is providing key information to fill knowledge gaps on alternative proteins and contributes to the achievement of the objectives of the European Green Deal.”

Smart Protein Co-ordinator, Professor Emanuele Zannini PhD, said it was important to provide clear and simple information about the ingredient’s origin and processes and the technology applied for the development of safe and nutritious plant-based food products.

“This will encourage more and more consumers – including the more sceptical ones – to embrace, with more confidence, a shift towards a better diet for their health and for the planet. This is a clear target for food scientists and food ingredient industries,” Zannini said.

The survey was carried out with support from Innova Market Insights, a market research company based in the Netherlands.

A webinar will take place on 14 November 2023 between 11am–12pm (CET) allowing participants to learn more about consumer preferences and behaviors towards plant-based foods over the past two years. Those taking part will gain a deeper understanding of the long-term potential of the plant-based food industry and the extent to which further growth can be sustained. If you work in the food industry, you can’t afford to miss this webinar! You can register here.

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch with us, please email info@futureofproteinproduction.com

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