Russians Have Been Eating More Plant-Based Alternatives During The Pandemic
A survey administered by public opinion research organization NAFI in 2021 sought to measure the popularity of plant-based alternatives among residents of Russian cities. They also wanted to understand the respondents’ attitudes towards plant-based alternatives and towards veganism in general.
They found that, over the course of the pandemic, three times as many residents had tried a plant-based meat or milk alternative in a one-month time window than the year before. 34% and 31% of residents had tried a meat and milk alternative in 2021, respectively. This was up from only 10% and 9% in 2020. They also found that these numbers reached 50% for people under 34 years of age, indicating a greater acceptance of these products among younger consumers.
The survey also asked residents about their attitudes towards plant-based alternatives and towards veganism in general. Here is where some seemingly mixed attitudes appear. On the positive side, when asked where in the store the plant alternatives should be shelved, 31% of respondents said in the health/eco products section. This might indicate a widespread association between plant-based alternatives and health and environmental friendliness. A total of 23% of respondents also reported an association between the word “vegan” with “healthy” and “nutritious”.
On the other hand, the survey also revealed a common sense of hesitancy and possibly confusion about these products. For example, when asked what would prompt them to try a plant-based alternative, one-third said “lower price than the traditional product”, suggesting that price parity would not be enough to motivate them. Over 50% responded with “health benefits” to the same question, again pointing towards potentially higher standards held towards plant alternatives.
Respondents were also prompted to choose which labeling option they most preferred for plant alternatives. “100% plant-based” was preferred by 58% of people, whereas “100% vegetarian” and “100% vegan” were only preferred by a total of 13%. Perhaps the most concerning example is the fact that 21% of respondents associated the word vegan with “definitely not for me” and 35% said that vegan products were “only for vegans.” This might reveal a failure of the industry to properly communicate the intended audience and use for these products.
Finally, just over half of respondents report eating the same amount of animal meat as last year and most still eat the same amount of dairy, but 40% of respondents also said they eat either a little or significantly less meat than last year. The decreased popularity of animal meat might signal a movement of plant-based alternatives out of a fringe niche and into the mainstream, which could play a part in peoples’ willingness to try them. These results may seem somewhat hostile towards plant-based alternatives in Russia, but keep in mind that the three-fold increase in consumers trying these products happened despite these seemingly paradoxical attitudes. What this means for the future of the plant-based market in Russia is still unclear, and the authors did not speculate on the matter. It does, however, open an exciting realm of research opportunities surrounding challenges and prospects in this space.