A recent article in the Washington Post touted the benefits of a flexitarian diet for those interested in avoiding meat but unable to stick to a strict vegetarian diet. While only 7.3 million Americans are truly vegetarians, another 22.8 million are flexitarians—focusing their diets primarily on plant-based foods, but occasionally eating meat.
This desire for more plant-based options continues to be a powerful trend that food companies can’t ignore. Consumers are increasingly choosing to eat less meat, as indicated by the fact that annual meat consumption per person has fallen 15 percent in the past 10 years. Not to mention a remarkable 60% rise in vegetarian food and beverage products launched globally between 2011 and 2015. Perhaps most importantly, this growing trend has also created a large opportunity for brands in this category to market beyond just vegans and vegetarians.
The appeal of a “flexitarian” diet comes from the fact that it balances consumers’ need to make healthy, sustainable food choices with their cravings for the occasional burger or piece of steak. Even reducing meat intake and not eliminating it still provides a variety of health benefits, including weight loss, lower cholesterol and reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Additionally, at a time where consumers are becoming more concerned with the environment, the sustainability of choosing to eat a more plant-based diet has significant appeal.
It’s clear this trend shows no sign of slowing down. In the next few years it’s likely we will see more and more Americans opting to eat meat less frequently. And a significant percentage of those folks won’t think of themselves as vegetarians or flexitarians. They’ll just be people looking to eating a healthier, more sustainable diet.
The key for marketers of these brands is to avoid short-term trends and effectively position their products for all Americans. This requires education—helping consumers understand the benefits of a plant-based diet without saddling them with labels like vegetarian or flexitarian.
The Meatless Monday campaign is a great example of an effort to educate Americans about the benefits of reducing meat consumption and increasing plant-based food consumption without a need to commit to a restricted diet.
Americans are increasingly looking for healthy options that are easy to incorporate into their busy lifestyles—small steps they can take to lead a healthier life. Why wouldn’t plant-based food brands seek to educate all Americans about the benefits of their brands, and leave the trends and labels behind?