Sausage, Spinach, or Both?: Consumers’ Opinions Of Hybrid Meat Products
The growing awareness that meat is bad for the environment and personal health has led to more interest in vegetarian and meat-reduced options. One of those options is hybrid meat (sometimes called “blended” meat). Hybrid meat products are a group of processed foods which contain meat, but are mixed with other plant-based ingredients.
The idea of hybrid meats is not necessarily new. Processed meat products often contain soy- and wheat-based substances which work as fillers and save on production costs. However, the plant-based ingredients in hybrid meat products are used to intentionally target the customer. Manufacturers advertise them as the healthy and green choice that supports the customer in saving the planet while enjoying a culinary treat. Still, it is unclear whether customers buy into this advertising or dismiss hybrid meat products.
Some hope that hybrid meat products might be more effective in reducing meat consumption in the long-term than strict vegetarian or vegan diets. Five out of six people who turn towards a vegetarian diet eventually started eating meat again, and so hybrid meat products might be an option to reduce meat consumption to a smaller degree, but within a wider population.
This study investigated consumers’ views on hybrid meat products sold in the U.K. through text analysis. The authors gathered 201 positive and negative online reviews on retailers’ websites. They first analyzed the distribution of hybrid meat products in the market, followed by examining key terms, ratings, and experiences with hybrid meat products.
The first analysis showed that hybrid meat products had mixed success in the market. While 38 products were launched between 2016 and 2020, only 12 are still available for purchase. These products advertise mostly their taste, healthiness, and convenience. Their proportion of plant-based content is up to 50%, with vegetables such as carrots, beans, or mushrooms being commonly used.
The good news is that hybrid meat products were successful among those customers who tried them. A strong majority (80%) of the reviews were positive with a score of 3.5 to 5. For the reviewers, taste was the most important component, and was mostly evaluated positively. Consumers described the products as tasty, delicious, and healthy options, particularly helpful for eating more vegetables. They also appreciated the product’s texture and convenient preparation. These experiences were described as a surprise when the product met its expectations. Some reviewers saw buying the product as an experiment, to try something different, which proved successful. Interestingly, these positive descriptions sounded very much like the advertisements used by the manufacturers to promote their products. The benefit of decreasing meat-intake or doing something for the environment were not mentioned at all.
Negative reviews stressed taste as an important component of the product, but described it as flavorless or bland, while some consumers experienced products’ texture as mushy or rubberlike. These consumers also saw the purchase as an experiment to easily eat more vegetables, which failed.
In a nutshell, consumers were willing to buy hybrid meat products because they saw them as a benefit for their health and because they were convenient to prepare. Concerns for the environment or about meat consumption in general didn’t play a role. A customer’s positive experience with the product was dependent on taste and texture — if products were seen as dull, slimy or mushy, the customer won’t buy them again.
In this study, which was limited, the majority of online reviews were positive. However, as the first analysis showed, most products didn’t prove successful in the marketplace. As such, we can’t conclude how the general population would rate hybrid meat products, as they still haven’t reached a critical mass. Furthermore, the results here might be limited by the possibility that only customers with positive experiences report them, while consumers with negative experiences simply don’t buy the product again.