Raising and producing enough food to provide for the ever growing global population is a top priority for everyone from farmers to food innovators. This global conversation has covered more than a few hot topics: genetically modified foods, the agricultural cultivation of sea plants and insects, vegetarianism. In fact, dialogue in the industry has indicated a move toward diversified proteins.
Consumers Are Searching for Sustainability
Grocery shoppers in the US are moving toward more eco-friendly protein choices.
Where beef, poultry and dairy products were once the main source of protein for Americans, consumers are beginning to diversify their diets with plant-based protein bites. As global warming and other ecological issues gain more exposure in the media, some shoppers see the use of vegetables, grain, and dairy proteins, in place of meat, as a way to do their part for the environment.
Even as consumer sensibilities evolve, however, there is still a great demand for convenience.
An Increasingly Meatless Market
Vegetarianism is growing. And food brands—both in the consumer packaged goods market, as a whole, and in the RTE category, in particular—would do well to take note. According to a survey by Mintel:
While only 7 percent of Americans consider themselves vegetarian, 36 percent purchase meat alternatives; 31 percent noted trying to reduce their meat purchases.
51 percent of adults feel meat is less healthy in comparison to meat alternatives.
Millennials are the largest single demographic driving the increased sale of meat alternatives; 46 percent of grocery shoppers ages 18 to 24 buy meat alternatives.
Garden Protein International—makers of the popular plant-based gardein protein line—have been keeping up with the meat alternative demand. By producing fare beyond the basic meatless burger patty—meat-free stir fry, meatballs, scaloppini, breakfast sandwiches, and wings—the company has seen its sales double every two years since its launch in 2008/9.
Making the Most of Vegetarian Options
Vegetarian eaters, like most consumers, want to find items that are the best of both worlds—ready-to-eat straight out of the box, but customizable. Millennials, in particular, are interested in a mix of the two options, given their expeditious lifestyle blended with a desire to get their hands dirty in the kitchen. This demographic is all about experimenting with new flavors and foods, and that trend holds true in both protein bites and RTE foods.
Finding ways to produce the tastes and products in demand by the growing population of vegetarians, or those individuals with a semi-vegetarian diet, is critical to reaching this shopping demographic.
Ready-to-Eat Meals Evolve with the Times
Savvy RTE food manufacturers have already picked up on consumer trends and have begun moving toward diversified protein options—from vegetables to legumes to beans. Pinnacle Foods, for example, the name behind the Bird’s Eye brand of frozen foods, finalized a deal to purchase Garden Protein International late in 2014.
Food distributors like Pinnacle have recognized that using vegetarian sources of proteins in RTE foods provide consumers with the healthier, more sustainable choices that they’re looking for:
Healthier, high quality meals with components that include less processed ingredients lower in salt, sodium, sugar and saturated fats.
Meals featuring exotic ingredients and flavors, a reflection of the globalized culture.
Expanding Meatless Horizons
For companies hoping to snag a piece of the meatless protein market, the key is variety. Consumers want to try new meat-free foods, but they expect those foods to be healthy and made from all natural, real ingredients. Additionally, meatless RTE meals should explore new textures and flavors, in addition to innovative recipes. A look around the globe at the different cultures and their favorite foods offers a start for finding new recipes and flavors that attract up-and-coming grocery shoppers.