alternative meat and what consumers actually think about it

When it comes to the top trends of 2019, it's impossible to ignore the rise of alternative meat. With Beyond Meat debuting on the stock market, Impossible Foods expanding into grocery chains, and other big players like Nestle launching their own plant-based burger, alternative meats are here to stay. The perceived health benefits over meat and rising environmental concerns are huge drivers in the inevitable success of alternative meat, but Ideas To Go wanted to explore consumers' thoughts in some more detail. 

Creative Curiosities

We tapped our large consumer base—Creative Consumers® associates and iCoN® panelists—to get their thoughts on America's hottest food trend. With the help of the Inspire® Consumer Insight Accelerator, we got responses from 201 consumers in the latest Creative Curiosity report—a monthly, internal survey we push out to gauge consumers' perceptions on a variety of topics. Consumers respond to survey-like questions, then upload images to support their responses, hashtagging each image to provide a richer level of empathy. The images from the Creative Curiosity add an emotional level of detail that sometimes can't be articulated through words in a survey. The results for a question might looks something like this:

inspire consumer insight accelerator overview

A total of 1,518 images were uploaded, along with 3,775 hashtags, each adding an extra dimension of consumer empathy to understand the real opportunities. We dug through the responses and uncovered a few themes within the data, an example of some of the themes that could kick off an innovation project. 

The Inspire® Consumer Insight Accelerator is the latest tool we've added to the Ideas To Go playbook, providing instant access to consumers that provide rich, thought-provoking stimulus, making it easy to explore and identify fresh opportunities. Consumers upload images that add context to their responses, getting to the emotional territories that a traditional survey can't uncover. It helps to identify themes and emotional spaces surrounding a topic, guiding teams to opportunity areas that focus innovation.  

Consumers' Thoughts on Alternative Meat

The Inspire® Consumer Insight Accelerator is not meant to serve as a quantitative tool, even though it does provide some numbers around the topic. The numbers are there to support and understand this sample of consumers—with the real results hiding in the image responses. With this in mind, let's take a look at some of the data gathered here.

Crunching the Numbers

most consumers have tried plant based meat-2

59.74% of consumers have tried plant based meat, with an additional 32.03% wanting to try it at some point in the future. A small subset of the consumers will likely never try it. 

benefits of alternative meat

41.33% of consumers see health as the main benefit of plant based meat. The second leading benefit cited were environmental reasons (25.33%), followed by animal cruelty (14.67%). 

consumer views of meat and masculinity

When it comes to associations between meat and masculinity, 56.13% associate the two, with 41.51% of consumers seeing no relationship between meat and masculinity or femininity. 

Considering everything, 68.16% of consumers say they see plant based meat playing a larger role in their diet in the future. 

Meat Associations

No matter the topic, our brains form association complexes to help memory recall and overall understanding. So what are consumers thinking about when they think of meat? The three most common themes we picked up: Summer Grilling and Socializing, Building Muscle and Being Active, and Carnivores are Natural. 

meat associations

Summer Grilling and Socializing

From tailgating at sporting events to backyard barbeques with friends, meat is at the center of each meal. These are fun, relaxing and easy-going occasions, and often come with a sense of nostalgia. It's a powerful and emotional association that people are holding on to when it comes to meat. 

So what's the opportunity for alternative meats? There are a few ways to attack it—take on summer grilling head on and attempt to steal a slice of the pie, or discover a new and distinct occasion to own. Both have their risks and advantages. 

Going after the grilling occasion runs head to head with the traditional meat options that are currently beloved by most people barbecuing. However, as a meat alternative, that is the same audience that needs to be won over in order to gain market share. 

On the other hand, identifying a new occasion to take over with alternative meat has huge potential. By getting in early and creating exciting new experiences, there's a chance to create good times and nostalgia for a whole new generation. What occasion is it, and what's the best way to capitalize on that white space? 

Building Muscle and Being Active

Another common association with meat is its protein content—but at a higher level of working out, building that muscle and staying fit. Meat acts as the fuel for sustained activity throughout the day. Most of the imagery uploaded was of the top 1% of people: minimal body fat, extremely cut and heavy weights. 

inspire consumer insight accelerator alternative meat response

So what's the opportunity for alternative meats? Since most of the current associations for meat are this extreme workout, extremely fit archetype, there's a chance to go after the more modestly active consumer. Most plant-based meats still have high protein content, offering similar benefits to animal-based meat, and still fueling an active lifestyle. A lot of consumers can be turned off by over the top muscles—leveraging messaging around providing the fuel for the everyday person staying in shape opens up a new door for meat. How can alternative meat tap into the active consumer as an everyday, sustainable protein source, without pushing into the territory of the extremely athletic?

Carnivores are Natural

Consumers are seeing meat as a natural part of human evolution—successful tribes back in the day would hunt animals for a prized and nourishing meal. Not only is meat a natural component of the human diet, there's a whole order of animals that strictly eat meat. Consumers are calling into question why meat is all of a sudden being pushed to the side in favor of heavier plant-based consumption. 

inspire consumer insight accelerator response cavemen inspire consumer insight accelerator response carnivor

So what's the opportunity for alternative meats? Plants also happen to be a natural part of the human diet. There also happens to be more herbivorous species than carnivorous. If the reason for not eating alternative meat is that eating meat is natural, then flipping the same rationale and utilizing the naturalness of eating plants can be just as persuasive. 

inspire consumer insight accelerator plant opportunity

Before and After

what consumers think of alternative meat before and after trying it

We asked the consumers how they feel before eating plant-based meat compared to after eating plant-based meat. The largest theme that came through in the images was the mixed feeling of nervousness and excitement before trying the meat. But once they’re over the hump and try it, most report enjoying the product and are pleasantly surprised. 

inspire consumer insight accelerator response plant based meat

inspire consumer insight accelerator response alternative meat after

So what's the opportunity for alternative meats? Due to the strong conversion of opinions after the consumers taste plant-based meat, getting them over the hump is the main challenge. Once they’ve tried, they’re likely to enjoy its taste. Driving consumer testing should get them to start buying alternative meat options more often, with the effect snowballing as people realize they don't need as much meat in their diet. 

The Hero

We also asked the Creative Consumers® associates and iCoN® panelists a metaphorical question: If plant based meat was a fictional character, who would it be? The most common theme that rose through was that of the superhero—the idea that switching to a plant-based diet would save the world from climate change, and the products themselves were the real hero in the story. 

inspire consumer insight accelerator response batman hero

inspire consumer insight accelerator response captain planet

inspire consumer insight accelerator response hulk

So what's the opportunity for alternative meats? Consumers really do see the alternative meat industry as an attempt to save the planet from climate change. Truly adopting that notion and taking on climate change at every level of the business can capture the consumer and convince them to eat less meat—and buy more plant-based meat.

Where to go from here? 

Based on these themes and opportunity areas, you can frame up ideations to generate new ideas. Whether it's positioning or new products, setting the stage with each opportunity sets the right creative conditions to stimulate new possibilities in each area. 

For example, focusing on plant-based meat fueling an active lifestyle might lead to alternative meat jerky poppers, perfect for long hikes and and those consistently uphill bike rides. Or, focusing on creating a new occasion for plant-based meat, one might think up the game-day vegetarian pizza, topped with plant-based meat pepperonis and sausages. Pop it in at kickoff and enjoy as your team carries you through Sunday. 

By getting at consumers' behaviors and thoughts beforehand—at a high level—we are able to uncover new territories to focus on. Rather than just trying to innovate a product, we can go into ideation with an understanding of the consumer and let that guide the ideas that come after. 

Tyler Thompson

Tyler Thompson is a Creative Process Designer and Facilitator at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.