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STUDY: Beef or Beyond? What drives consumer choices

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The results suggest that regular meat consumers remain heavily dependent on food prices. The presence of an equally priced plant-based option alone may not tempt them to choose it.

ZOE PARR-CORTES: Animal products account for 48% of sales in the U.S. agricultural sector, meaning that the industry remains heavily tied to animal agriculture. In recent years there has also been huge growth in the plant-based protein market, with $2.3 billion invested into new ventures in 2021 alone. But what is the economic impact of these alternatives, and how much of the alternative meat industry is supported by meat-eaters (versus people on a plant-based or reducetarian diet)?

This study explored the effects of pricing, labeling, and socio-economic factors on consumer choices between plant-based meat and conventional meat. The authors analyzed 3225 survey responses from U.S. consumers across four experiments. Of those surveyed, 68% reported regularly eating meat, 12% reported being flexitarian, 7% vegan, 4% vegetarian, and 9% responded with “none of the above.” Those who claimed to follow an alternative diet were grouped into one “non-regular meat consumer” category (32%).

In the first experiment, participants could choose between a beef burger and a plant-based Beyond Meat Burger… Omnivores who chose the Beyond Meat option were more likely to be men under 35, residents of Western states, and have children under 12…

In the second experiment, participants could choose one of four options from a “menu” — a beef burger, a bacon beef burger, a chicken sandwich, or a chicken wrap. The researchers changed the prices of each item and asked participants to choose nine different times. Afterward, the experiment was repeated with a Beyond Meat Burger instead of the chicken wrap… Conventional meat-eaters were more likely to change their food choices based on price, which might work in the plant-based industry’s favor once their products reach price parity with meat…

In the third experiment, participants could choose one of five grocery store products, including two plant-based options. The researchers again varied the prices of these products to understand how cost affects food choices… At their actual retail prices, regular meat consumers selected plant-based options only 2% of the time compared to 25% for non-regular meat consumers. Dropping the price of plant-based items by $1 increased their selection to 5% for regular meat consumers and 31% for non-regular meat consumers…

In the final experiment, participants were given the same five grocery store options but could select multiple items, choosing by the pound… Regular meat consumers once again proved to be more price-sensitive, with a 1% increase in price leading to an 8.5% decrease in purchases of Beyond Meat and 12% for Impossible Burgers.

Overall, the results suggest that regular meat consumers remain heavily dependent on food prices. Furthermore, the presence of a plant-based option alone may not tempt them to choose it. Unsurprisingly, those identifying as non-regular meat consumers selected plant-based options more frequently, valued them higher, and were less influenced by price. SOURCE…

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