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STUDY: Why don’t consumers swap out meat for meat substitutes?

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Informing consumers of the environmental impact of the products they are buying, possibly through labelling on packaging, as well as product variety with suggested recipes, were important conclusions of the study.

FLORA SOUTHEY: Animal agriculture is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, is a key factor in biodiversity loss, freshwater use, and pollution. As meat is considered more resource-intensive to produce than plant-based foods, pressure is mounting to reduce its consumption in the western world… Not all consumers are succumbing to the pressure, however.

In Sweden, a 2020 national survey suggested around 75% of consumers were not planning to reduce their meat intake in the coming year. Why are some meat-eaters resisting the move towards less meat? And what can be done to encourage uptake of meat substitutes? Researchers in Sweden are investigating…

“There is currently an effort at the government level in Sweden to encourage more sustainable food consumption in the country, and one area of focus is on enabling or empowering consumers with knowledge to make sustainable food choices,” explained Dr Elizabeth Hörlin from RISE Research Institutes of Sweden’s Bioeconomy & Health Division…

The researchers recruited 33 participants to take part in the study. Split into focus groups based on stage-of-change and current meat consumption levels, participants discussed a range of topics relating to meat consumption and meat substitutes – which are considered potential plant-based replacements…

At least ‘some level’ of scepticism to reducing meat and embracing meat substitutes was noted in a number of discussions. Arguments included that meat is ‘natural for humans’, and that meat substitutes were not as safe to eat as meat. The first, reservation, suggested that among the meat-eating participants, there was a general sense of uncertainty around several aspects of both reducing meat consumption and adopting meat substitutes.

Some, for example, raised concerns about ‘potential unanticipated consequences’ of rejecting meat consumption at a larger scale. Such as what would happen to animals currently living on farms?… Others expressed uncertainty around the quality, taste, and texture of meat substitutes…

From a health perspective, many participants perceived the nutritional content of processed products to be generally poor… According to the study, products that were perceived as containing too many strange or unfamiliar ingredients, as well as seeming ‘over-processed’ or ‘artificial’, were seen as unhealthy or poor-quality options…

Identity, including cultural associations with meat consumption, was also perceived to be a barrier to a reduction in meat consumption… For example, some participants noted it was dicult to replace certain meat-based elements of the traditional Swedish Christmas meal, such as Christmas ham…

Could it be that plant-based products that best achieve meat mimicry are the answer to conventional meat reduction? Not necessarily. In fact, meat mimicry was perceived as ‘strange’ or ‘dishonest’ by some participants – both meat- eaters and non-meat eaters alike… The researchers suspect that product variety and supplication of suggested recipes is an important role manufacturers can play.

“Further, making an effort to inform consumers of the environmental impact of the products they are buying, possibly through labelling on packaging, and offering products in different packaging sizes, may also be advantageous,” she continued, adding: “with smaller product sizes, consumers may worry less about food waste if they do not enjoy a product they are trying for the first time”…

“There is evidence from previous studies that campaigns encouraging small reductions in meat consumption can lead to subsequent reductions in the longer-term,” explained Dr Hörlin. “Such campaigns may avoid the pitfall of consumers conflating reduction and complete rejection of meat. It may be that government support for, or endorsement of, such grassroots campaigns would increase their audience and inspire change among more individuals”. SOURCE…

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