2018 saw the rise of the meat-alternative market with more and more companies investing in meat-free options. If this trajectory is set to continue will supermarkets need to make the move from the meat aisle to the protein department?

According to the Good Food Institute, the sales of plant-based meats grew by over 23 percent, exceeding $760 million last year. With 91 percent of Brits now adopting a flexitarian diet its no wonder this category is set to explode in 2019. The meat-free market is not only trending in the UK, 1 in 3 Australians reportedly now consider themselves meat-free or actively reducing their meat consumption, while six percent of US consumers believe themselves to be vegan. New Zealand research shows more than 30 percent of Kiwis describe themselves as actively looking to reduce their animal protein consumption, typically having a ‘Meat Free Day’ at least once a week.

UK supermarket Sainsbury’s has already created a plant-based area in its chiller section next to traditional meat, seafood and poultry products with Tesco set to make a similar change as of August. In Tesco’s case, the meat-free alternatives will be placed alongside both the traditional meat section of the supermarket as well as in the freezer section.

New Zealand retailers have already begun stocking more meat-free offerings. Last year saw Dunedin business The Craft Meat Co. launch a no-meat mince. “It’s this new flexitarian consumer segment that we are primarily targeting, although, of course, vegans and vegetarians will also be key consumers,” said owner Grant Howie. “We are seeing a significant rise in global demand for alternative proteins, and the New Zealand market is now experiencing a massive increase in vegan and flexitarian consumers.”

Vegan alternative, Funky Fields also released its plant-based mince into Countdown supermarkets in 2018. The supermarket chain reported a 30 percent growth in vegan and vegetarian chilled food. “We launched ‘Minced’ which is a meat alternative made from natural ingredients including soy and wheat protein. We’ve had great feedback from our customers so far,” said Scott Davidson, general manager merchandise, Countdown.

Foodstuffs is also reporting an increase in meat-free alternatives. 2018 saw popular brand Beehive launch its flexitarian sausages that are half meat and half lentils or veggies. New Zealand company, Sunfed Meats, has seen recent success with its chicken-free chicken, which is made from peas and sold out upon its release to stores in 2017.

“We’re seeing a significant increase in the demand for alternative proteins. Plant-based meat alternatives – from TVPs (Textured vegetable proteins) to tempeh – are driving traditional meat players to innovate and deliver a range of products that reflect shoppers’ busy lifestyles and let them experiment with new tastes and flavours,” explained Antoinette Laird, head of external relations, Foodstuffs NZ.

The future of meat-free alternatives is looking bright, but New Zealand retailers are not yet ready to make the jump to a fully integrated protein department instore. While they acknowledge that the increase in the development of more meat-free alternatives is inspiring a new generation of flexitarians, chicken is still reigning supreme when it comes to what Kiwis want to see on their plate.

“While meat alternatives are in hot demand at the moment, chicken has become the most popular meat in New Zealand due to its versatility. It’s a good and affordable source of protein. Within the poultry category, it’s free-range chicken that is driving the largest growth, again driven by consumers’ increased interest in what they’re eating and how it has been farmed,” articulated Davidson.

Laird agrees that while this new trend increases options for consumers, New Zealanders aren’t quite ready to forgo a good slab of steak. “These new entrants are great for the meat department in the supermarket for the obvious reason of more choice, but also for the fact that it drives traditional meat providers to innovate and think differently about their offerings. Many still want the traditional meat cuts they know and love but opening the doors to innovative protein alternatives is what our customers are increasingly asking for – it’s early days on the New Zealand supermarket shelf in this space, but it’s also exciting to see the innovation and opportunity this growing category presents.