The pathway to plant-based
How the rise of ‘flexitarian’ eating is helping pave the way to an increasingly plant-based future.
From wholefood, plant-based to reducetarian, and everything in between, an estimated 42 percent of Australians are actively reducing or excluding animal products from their diets.
Of these, around 10 percent are completely meat-free, following either a vegetarian or vegan dietary pattern, with the remainder – up to one in three – taking a part-time plant-based approach, often referred to as flexitarian.
So, why is this happening, and does it mean we can expect an increasing societal shift towards plant-based living?
The motivating factors
It turns out that the reasons people are adopting more ‘plant forward’ diets such as a flexitarian or reducetarian approach are the same range of motivating factors that underlie the decision to be vegan.
“The main reasons consumers cite for meat reduction include health, reducing environmental impact, cost of food purchases, concerns for animal welfare, plus the increasing availability of plant-based meat alternatives,” says Coles representative and Accredited Practising Dietitian Julia Perruzza, citing recent research from CHOICE.
Research into UK and US shoppers confirms that availability of alternatives is playing a key role in encouraging regular consumers to try them and replace animal products in some of their meals. And, with increasing uptake also comes the possibility of reducing cost and growing normalisation, which overcomes two of the major historic barriers for people making the switch to a vegan lifestyle.
A virtuous cycle
Considering the sheer numbers of people who are on the flexitarian path, it’s this cohort of consumers that is driving demand for plant-based alternatives, creating a positive cycle in terms of supply fuelling demand and innovation, and vice versa.
As Perruzza puts it, “While not all consumers are moving to a 100 percent plant-based diet, many shoppers are looking for easy and convenient ways to reduce their intake of animal products. Providing a range of options in this space allows Coles to appeal to a wide range of shoppers, including those consumers who are vegan or shoppers seeking to incorporate additional meat free meals into their current lifestyle.”
The plant-based supermarket sweep!
Roll back just five or six years, and supermarket vegan options were limited to a pretty small selection of plant-based products, usually tucked into a niche section of the store. Today, we have a wide array of vegan options throughout the aisles, including a ‘new generation’ of ultra-meaty plant-based alternatives.
Perruzza explains, “Consumers are seeking plant-based versions of their favourite meals, such as spaghetti bolognese, or meal components such as schnitzels and pies.”
In response to this demand, Coles has been expanding their vegan offering significantly over the last few years. “The development of new products includes: veggie burgers and sausages, marinated tofu and fresh pastas, plus new flavours in Nature’s Kitchen convenience meal options”, she notes.
An expanding category
Alongside the growth in mainstay savoury meal components and dairy alternatives, there’s also a growing variety of product categories becoming vegan friendly by design. “There is an increased expectation of plant-based alternatives being readily available for treat foods such as plant-based chocolate or biscuits and specialised food supplements, such as protein powder and bars,” says Perruzza.
It’s this that’s led Coles to launch new products such as their Wellness Road acai, matcha and spirulina powders, and PerForm sports brand plant-based protein powder supplements and bars.
The bedrock of the innovation process is meeting shoppers’ expectations for quality. It’s a priority that Peruzza emphasises. “All Coles Brand products are developed collaboratively by our product developers and food technologists who work alongside our product innovation chefs, dietitians, plus quality and marketing teams. As a result, we can ensure Coles Brand products not only taste great, but are safe, nutritious and meet consumer expectations.”
Market research by Colmar Brunton found that Australians had reduced their meat consumption by 20 percent from 2018-19, and the number of people identifying as flexitarian had grown by 20 percent.
As these growing numbers of meat reducers continue to seek out alternatives, we can expect ongoing innovation and availability of vegan products in retail and food service settings. This is backed up by CSIRO and other bodies that foresee explosive growth within the plant-based products market this decade.
Both anecdotal and peer-reviewed evidence confirms that attitudes and beliefs become free to shift once previously unquestioned habits are progressively changed. So, as increasing numbers of people experience the variety, quality and benefits of vegan food (and beyond), we can expect a greater openness to learning more and taking further steps towards a vegan lifestyle and philosophy. Which makes for exciting and hopeful times for this planet-loving, health-conscious and compassionate movement!