LAMB producers should not underestimate a growing risk to domestic and export market share from meat alternative products, a consumer trends specialist has advised.
Millennials – people born between 1981 and 1996, now aged 22-37 – particularly showed interest in vegan diets and meat alternative products, market researcher Sarah Hyland told the recent LambEx 2018 industry conference in Perth.
Ms Hyland, who has an agribusiness background, is founder and director of Shyland, a research company specialising in identifying early consumer trends and providing market insights.
Real meat retained some important marketing advantages, particularly in relation to its unique eating qualities and millennials’ desire for more natural, fresh and unprocessed healthy foods, which producers should be promoting to their advantage, she said.
The meat industry should also be protecting its lamb, beef and chicken “labels” from adoption by plant-based alternative products, Ms Hyland advised.
She said Woolworths already stocked and advertised “alternative” beef and chicken products and Coles supermarkets advertised a range of vegan meat substitute products.
A recent study in Europe had shown people aged 25-34 are now more likely than average to incorporate more meat replacements in their diet compared with a year ago.
Ms Hyland said across Canada, Europe and the United States consumers are trying to moderate the amount of meat they eat, “avoid it somewhat” or start looking at vegetarian foods.
“So it (alternative or cultured meats) is totally out there and there’s totally interest in it,” Ms Hyland told an audience of sheep producers.
“It would be wrong to think that there is little or no interest in meat alternatives because there clearly is a lot of interest, particularly amongst the millennials”.
Ms Hyland said only two of the top six Australian consumer attitudes to food, revealed by a 2016 survey, tended to support meat alternatives – those related to ethical treatment of animals and the environment and sustainability.
The other four related to concerns at sugar and salt levels in processed foods and preferences for ‘safer’ Australian-produced food and more natural foods.
Ms Hyland said a survey of 1500 people conducted earlier this year by Pollinate for Meat and Livestock Australia showed consumers at this stage were still wary of lab meat.
More than half the survey group considered lab meat to be genetically modified and indicated they would feel unsafe eating it and a similar number thought it would have too many additives to be healthier than animal meat.
About a third of the sample said they would be open to trying lab meat but less than 40 per cent said they would buy it if it tasted the same and cost less than animal meat.
None of the survey group thought lab meat would taste as good as animal meat, she pointed out.
“This is really important,” Ms Hyland said.
“The undeniable truth about consumers and food is that taste is king.
“You can have the healthiest, most suitably sourced, best priced food with all sorts of health claims, but if it doesn’t taste very good you’ll sell your first box and never sell the next one.
“One of the challenges around (creating meat alternative) plant-based foods is a strong bean flavour so a lot of augmentation has to happen with salt or other flavour compounds.
“That’s something to keep in mind, it’s also really important about real meat and its unique taste delivery.
“The thing about meat is that it is one of the most difficult foods to replicate.
“We know it’s not simply muscle, there’s fat, cartilage and bone all of which cook in slightly different ways and confer different textures to the flavour profile.”
The problem for those marketing meat alternatives at present was “there’s an absolute issue around palatability, appearance, texture, shear and mouth fill.
Ms Hyland said Asian markets were also unlikely to adopt alternative meat over the real thing as a source of protein, according to what she learnt on a recent speaking tour in Singapore.
The Asian diet was already strongly plant based so alternative meat would be seen as just more of the same, there were issues with “authenticity” and Asians did not eat a lot of hamburgers and sausages which have been the main market thrust by meat alternatives so far.
Ms Hyland said she believed real meat and meat alternatives would “coexist” on supermarket shelves into the future because they served different markets.
“I think the best way to move forward,” she told the lamb producers, “is to talk about the most defensible characteristics, quality and virtues of real meat which are not owned by these alternatives”.
“Millennials are into sharing their food, enjoying their food, but not preparing their food,” she said.
“They love healthy, fresh and safe real food.
“You (lamb producers) have to understand your markets.
“You’ve got to have YouTube standards of transparency – show them best practice, show them sustainability – and earn and keep the trust of the consumer.”