Associations Between Consumption Of Meats And Animal Product Alternatives
Despite strong preferences for meat, many Americans report already reducing meat consumption (ranging from 16% to 39% depending on the survey) and even more say they intend to do so. However, the strategies they use to reduce and replace meat with alternatives are not well investigated (Neff et al., 2018).
In the third phase of our Plant-Based Labeling study, we asked 1,431 participants about their eating habits regarding meat, dairy and animal product alternatives. We have conducted a more in-depth analysis of the resulting diet data for the purpose of this blog post. The 95% margin of error for these percentages, which come from a census-balanced, nationally representative U.S. sample, is +/- 2.6%.
We asked the respondents about the frequency of consumption of certain foods in the three months before the study. These are shown below.
Based on the answers, 97% of these respondents were categorized as omnivores. Of that 97%, 3% were pescatarian (i.e. eating exclusively fish meat, no red meat or poultry).
3% of all respondents had eaten no meat in the past three months, including 2% of all respondents who had eaten a completely plant-based diet. The findings are in line with the estimates for the vegetarian population in the U.S. coming from Faunalytics’ study of the BRIC countries (4%).
*Please note that while the full sample of participants has a margin of error of 3 percent, the sample of vegans and vegetarians (n=48) and of pescetarians (n=42) has about a 14 percent margin of error. Therefore, the descriptive findings regarding vegans/vegetarians and pescetarians should not be extrapolated to the whole population of people who follow these diets but can be interpreted qualitatively instead.
Consumption Of Animal Products
Consumption Of Meats
Most omnivores (88%) had eaten fish in the past three months, but they tended to do so rarely: 78% ate fish three times a week or less. By contrast, 50% ate other types of meat more often than three times a week. Interestingly, however, only 19% said they ate red meat and poultry on a daily basis.
Consumption Of Dairy And Eggs
First, a methodological note: The survey asked about the consumption of dairy products or eggs in a single question, so they have to be considered together.
Omnivores were almost evenly split between those who consume dairy/eggs four or more times per week (49%) and those who consume these products three or fewer times per week (51%).
Vegetarians and pescetarians ate less dairy/egg than omnivores: 75% of them ate these products three times per week or less often. Also, contrary to fears that many meat-reducing omnivores may substitute meat with dairy, we found a moderate positive relationship between the consumption of meat and dairy/eggs. In other words, omnivores who ate less meat also tended to eat less dairy/eggs, and omnivores who ate more meat also tended to eat more dairy/eggs. A study investigating the dietary habits of meat reducers supports these findings, showing that meat reducers are most likely to eat vegetable meals instead of meat, while non-reducers are more likely to eat cheese and dairy (Neff et al., 2018).
Consumption Of Animal Product Alternatives
Over half (58%) of all respondents—most of whom were omnivores—had consumed animal product alternatives in the past three months. The type of diet did not matter: 58% of the omnivore group, as well as 50% of veg*ns, have tried the alternatives at least once.
There was significant overlap in the people who had eaten both kinds of alternatives: while dairy/egg alternatives were slightly more popular than meat alternatives, 33% of participants had consumed both.
Meat alternatives include products like tofu, meatless burgers (made of soy, beans, nuts, etc.), other meatless “meats” (e.g. meatless “chicken” – soy nuggets, fingers, etc.). A large proportion of omnivores (43%) as well as veg*ns (22 out of 48*) had eaten meat alternatives in the past three months before the study.
24% of all omnivores (more than half of those that ate meat alternatives) did it occasionally – once per week or less often. Nevertheless, 8% of omnivores – 17% of meat alternative consumers – ate meat substitutes almost daily, making an impressive result.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, veg*ns seemed to eat meat alternatives more often than omnivores. About ¾ of all veg*ns ate it more often than once per week (significant difference despite a large difference in sample size; we do not present charts for vegetarians and vegans because of the small size of the group).
Dairy and egg alternatives include products like non-dairy milk (i.e. made of soy, almond, oat, rice, etc.), egg replacers, non-dairy cheese (cashew/soy cheese, etc.) and other non-dairy products, like ice-cream, yogurt, etc. Almost half (48%) of all respondents had eaten dairy or egg alternatives at least once in the past three months, making it slightly more popular than meat substitutes (43%).
Among omnivores who consume dairy/egg alternatives, their frequency of doing so was wide-ranging: 35% of them eat dairy/egg alternatives less than once a week, 37% eat it 1-3 times per week and 29% eat it 4 times per week or more.
Among all veg*ns, more than half (58%) ate no dairy/egg alternatives, apparently interested in substituting meat more than dairy or eggs – despite two-thirds of this group eating no conventional dairy/egg either.
Meat Alternatives And Meat Consumption
Considering the group of people who eat both meat and meat alternatives, those who eat more meat appear to eat fewer meat alternatives and vice versa, but the correlation is almost insignificant.
However, although most of the omnivores who eat meat alternatives do it relatively rarely, they still eat significantly less meat in comparison to omnivores who never eat alternatives. Over half (57%) of conventional omnivores ate red meat and poultry almost daily – but of omnivores who eat meat alternatives, only 40% ate red meat and poultry so often. It appears that for at least some omnivores, meat alternatives have successfully substituted meat.
Dairy Alternatives And Dairy Consumption
Unlike meat alternatives, increasing consumption of dairy/egg alternatives does not seem to cause the decrease in consumption of conventional dairy and eggs among omnivores: the correlation between frequencies of consumption of both product categories is actually positive (but very weak). Apparently, most omnivores use dairy/egg alternatives as supplements rather than substitutes of dairy and eggs.
Popularity Of Specific Alternatives Among Omnivores And Veg*ns
Which specific plant-based products were most popular among veg*n and omnivore consumers? We looked into that, too.
Non-dairy milk is the winning alternative among both veg*ns and omnivores: 38% of all veg*ns and 51% of omnivore alternative consumers consume it at least occasionally.
Meatless burgers are the second most popular choice for both groups. Although much less popular among omnivores, one in three omnivores (34%) had eaten one in the past three months, as did two-thirds of veg*ns.
Omnivores showed no special preference toward any other meat alternative: meatless “pork”, “beef” and “chicken” were eaten by a similar proportion of omnivores. Veg*ns seemed to have more diverse preferences: While meatless “pork” is popular among omnivores, but there was only one meatless “pork” lover among veg*ns. More veg*ns were in favor of meatless “chicken”.
Tofu is also an important alternative for about one in four (26%) veg*ns. For omnivores, other non-dairy products like yogurt, cream cheese, seem to be more important (however, we suspect that some omnivores may have confused non-dairy and lactose-free, given the much lower performance of the better-defined non-dairy cheese).
The data points at the fact that the market for alternative animal products is predominantly omnivore-driven. From these results, we see that 8% of omnivores eat meat substitutes on a regular, close-to-daily basis and even more (14%) regularly consume dairy alternatives, largely thanks to flagship plant-based products such as non-dairy milk and meatless burgers. At the same time, there is great untapped potential among consumers who have tried alternatives but still eat them only sporadically: about a quarter of all omnivores. Consumers that already made first steps in a “consumer journey” with animal product alternatives may be easier to reach and be persuaded to reduce meat than the half of omnivores who don’t eat alternatives at all.
The omnivore consumers of animal product alternatives exhibit both lower meat consumption and more positive attitudes toward “vegan” and “plant-based” labels (highlighted in the main study) than the conventional omnivore population. Although the relationship between dairy and egg alternatives and dairy consumption seems to be a more complex one, meat alternatives confirm their important role in omnivore’s meat reduction attempts.
Last but not least, it’s important to remember that the omnivores and meat reducers, in particular, are a market with heterogeneous consumer habits. While some may be attempting to reduce general animal product consumption or just reduce the consumption of a particular type of meat, others may be former veg*ns who still eat less meat than the general population (Faunalytics 2014 study).
A better understanding of individual pathways to meat reduction–such as which animal products tend to be reduced and what they are replaced with–may help animal advocates and the plant-based industry improve their offerings to omnivores and remove barriers on the way to overall market-driven meat reduction.