How can grocers and food producers cater to flexitarians?

It’s impossible to miss the number of plant-based innovations hitting the market in the recent past, with options ranging from vegan foods to skin care products to wines. But as these options proliferate, it’s clear that many consumers aren’t limiting themselves -- often describing themselves as flexitarians rather than committing to just eating meat or completely eliminating it.

A recent OnePoll survey indicated that 52% of US consumers are trying to include more plant-based foods into their lives, while one-third of Americans identify as flexitarians. That trend has been reflected in consumers’ purchasing habits -- meat-alternative sales more than doubled between 2013 and 2018 -- but fresh meat sales also rose during the same period, according to Euromonitor.

Therefore, it's clear that shoppers are seeking a wide range of options during their grocery visits.

What does a flexitarian eat?

Defined generally, a flexitarian diet combines flexibility with vegetarianism, allowing consumers to enjoy some animal products in moderation, while also adopting some tenets of a vegetarian lifestyle, according to the 2009 book, The Flexitarian Diet.

Those who follow this lifestyle aren’t necessarily shutting animal products out of their diets, but they are looking to reduce them and to bring in more plant-based foods. “This trend represents a growing opportunity for high-quality meat alternatives,” Innova Market Insights’ Lu Ann Williams told Food Ingredients First. And CPG brands are responding, releasing new products that cater to this population.

For example, Tyson Foods’ new Raised & Rooted line will include both blended meat items and plant-based meats, while  Perdue Foods’ new Chicken Plus line blends chicken with vegetables to make items like nuggets and tenders. Earlier this spring, Applegate launched two organic burgers that contain blends of mushrooms and meat.

How to meet flexitarians where they are

Brands interested in appealing to flexitarian consumers should keep in mind that although more people are adopting this diet, they may not label themselves as “flexitarians.” Therefore, those who are looking to connect with these consumers should more generally share the ingredients of their foods rather than advertising them as “flexitarian-friendly.”

“The definition of flexitarian is not really consistently defined,” Cargill’s Matthew Jacobs told Nutritional Outlook. Whereas a particular consumer might describe him or herself as a meat eater, a review of that person’s actual eating habits may reveal that they don’t realize how many plant-based products they actually consume.

Grocers can meet flexitarians where they are by ensuring that customers can easily find both meats and meat-alternative products when shopping. “Where products end up (on store shelves) impacts how people think about them," said marketing specialist JoAndrea Hoegg of the University of British Columbia when speaking to the Vancouver Sun.

Some supermarkets are placing plant-based meat products in the meat case, while others keep them in the natural foods department or elsewhere in the store. Select grocers say the growth in meat alternative options has boosted sales, but it’s important to watch where consumers are buying these products to ensure that they’re being merchandised in the right area.

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