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Study: The battle between animal and plant-based proteins

Nielsen research says plant-based protein is driving growth in the sector

Health Canada may be ready to recommend Canadians eat more plant-based proteins rather than animal-based, but it seems Canadians are already doing that.

That’s one of the takeaways from a new consumer report from Nielsen titled Battle of the animal & plant-based proteins: Insights on diet preferences.

“The sale numbers tell the story: even though animal protein reigns in dollar volume, plant-based proteins are driving growth,” writes Isabel Morales, manager, consumer insights.

According to the Nielsen research, animal proteins account for 93% of sales ($22.3 billion) compared to 7% for plant-based ($1.6 billion) but plant-based sales are up 3% compared to a 1% rise for animal.

Unsurprisingly, a desire to improve health and nutrition explain the growth, though Nielsen also attributes the trend to younger and multicultural consumers.

Protein is a core nutritional requirement in human health and recent research out of McGill University suggests we should eat protein three times a day.  According to Nielsen, 51% of consumers have protein at every meal and 21% consistently monitor protein intake.

The consumer research also provides valuable clues about where the protein market could be going. For example, when asked if they plan to consume more, less or the same of different protein sources, 20% of respondents say they plan to consume more fish/seafood and legumes/nuts/seeds. Just 5% say they plan to consume more meat, while 15% say they plan to eat less meat.

In terms of dollar growth, meat sales were down 1% in the last year (thought still the largest total value at $10.2 billion) while legumes/nuts/seeds were up 3% ($800 million).

Some of the other insights from the study include:

Animal Proteins

  • 53% of consumers agree white meat is healthier than red meat, but red meat accounts for 57% of sales.

  • 70% say they prefer fresh animal protein over processed, with fresh accounting for 58% of sales.

  • 41% are willing to pay more for locally sourced meat and 35% are willing to pay more for ethically raised meat.

  • 38% of respondents are limiting their meat consumption.

Asked about the most important factors for healthy living, 55% of respondents say eating more fruits and vegetables (though just 12% say high protein and 6% say a plant-based diet). And 43% of Canadians are actively trying to incorporate more plant-based foods in their diets.

However, interest in more plant-based foods is higher for Chinese consumers (50%), South Asians (71%) and those under 35 (50%). Other plant-based insights include:

Plant Proteins

  • 46% of Canadian associate plant-based proteins with positive health effects.

  • 17% believe plant-based proteins offer superior nutritional value compared to animal proteins.

  • 6% of Canadians are vegetarians and 2% or vegans.

  • In the last year, meat alternative sales rose by 15% to $72.9 million (tonnage increase was 13%).

  • In the last year, tofu sales rose 12% to $43.5 million (tonnage was up 3%).

  • Total legume sales were up 2% to $128 million.

The consumer insights for the report were derived from an online survey of 6,275 adult Canadians, in English and French, conducted this spring.

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