- Currently, 79% of the Gen Z population choose to go meatless one day a week, and 65% say they want a more plant-forward diet
- “Flexitarian” (vs vegan or vegetarian) is the language that’s on-trend
- Feria has 3 recommendations for selling older generations on plant-based foods (see below)
Imagine being part of a generation of people born in a climate crisis. A climate crisis that affects every aspect of life; what you eat, what car you drive and what purchases you make on a daily basis. The world around you constantly talks about the harsh climate realities—in the news, politics and daily discussions—to the point that it becomes part of you, your identity. With that identity comes the hardwired desire to impact the world by making sustainable, environment-friendly choices, particularly via the foods you consume.
Unfortunately, you don’t have to imagine. That generation is Gen Z, those born between 1997 and 2012. Many of the choices Gen Z makes are positively impacting our environment and mitigating biodiversity loss. One of the many choices they make to counteract climate change? Plant-based foods.
The food system currently accounts for over a quarter of current global greenhouse emissions, with animal agriculture responsible for 15% of global greenhouse emissions. Therefore, reducing animal agriculture within the food system will decrease our carbon footprint. According to the 2021 Food for Thought Report, if we stay on track for an 11% share of alternative proteins by 2035, enough carbon will be offset to equal decarbonizing 95% of the aviation industry.
As Gen Z grows into their full purchasing power, the plant-based food market is forecasted to grow. Currently, 79% of the Gen Z population choose to go meatless one day a week, and 65% say they want a more plant-forward diet. Diet labels such as “vegan” or “vegetarian” have fallen out of fashion, and the “flexitarian” diet (defined as a combination of the “flexible” and “vegetarian”, is focused on the intentional consumption of fewer animal products and more plant-based foods) is prominent and describes this notion of choosing to go meatless for some meals. In a 2022 consumer survey, 87% of Gen Z respondents said they could be convinced to buy plant-based alternatives. For Gen Z, plant-based food options aren’t seen as a separate food choice; it is instead just another equal option among grocery store aisles and menus. Even when wallets get light, this generation’s food preferences don’t waver. Their beliefs about food are so ingrained in their identity, that they're more likely to cut corners elsewhere.
The same, however, does not hold true for older generations.
Older generations certainly understand the reality of current climate change but don’t have the same level of urgency and therefore aren’t as likely to make choices solely based on the environment. Because changing how you eat is a fundamental shift to one’s lifestyle and worldview, there’s opportunity to create plant-based products that are equivalent (or better) in taste, price and availability to their animal-based products so that it no longer feels like an alternative. It is the leading choice.
So what characteristics would make a plant-based product undeniable for these older generations?
- Plant-based foods must be delicious: First and foremost, the product needs to be delicious. According to the Plant Based Foods Association, taste is 52% of the overall population’s top priority in plant-based food purchasing decisions. Deliciousness within the plant-based food category falls into two categories. The first category is mimicry. Mimicry is when a plant-based product truly mirrors the animal product it is replacing. The sensorial experience: taste, texture, color and feel must match. Imagine a plant-based steak that tastes 95% the same as traditional beef steak.
The second category of taste within plant-based foods is when a product is delicious in its own right. An example of this is a plant-based cheese that does not have the same taste or texture as feta, cheddar or any other cheese but instead is its own new, delicious cheese. According to a consumer study, 70% of the population has a preference for plant-based foods that fall into this category that go “beyond mimicry.”
- The cost of plant-based foods needs to be the right price: The price of plant-based foods must be within a reasonable range of what the plant-based alternative food is replacing. A Piper Sandler survey shows that Gen Z’s highest spending category is food at 23% of total spending. Racial equality and environmental concerns are the two most important factors in their purchasing decisions. However, for older generations, pockets are tighter when it comes to food purchasing. Only 26% of the Baby Boomer generation is willing to spend more on sustainable foods.
A plant-based product could be the most wonderful product out there, but if the price isn’t right, the older generations, whose identity is not rooted in climate change, aren’t going to switch.
- If you can’t find it, then you won’t adopt it: Anything new, especially a food product, must be easily and readily available where customers shop already to adopt. There are two places of distribution where this is key. The first is the regular distribution channels, where shoppers go with convenience in mind, and the price is not at the forefront of the decision. This would look like a consumer going to Whole Foods because it is close to their home, and the consumer knows it has the organic brands they want. For this shopper, organic is non-negotiable, and its extra cost is not a factor. The second is the value channel distribution (e.g., Trader Joe’s, Walmart, Aldi), where people go with value in mind. Ideally, a plant-based product should be available across both distribution channels so that each type of consumer has access to it. That's where adoption happens.
By 2040, it is estimated that 40% of the market share by volume will be plant-based foods. However, it is up to the quality of the products to make them more attractive to all generations. With a mix of taste, price and availability of new plant-based products, we can ensure that all generations join in this crucial time to adopt more sustainable food choices.