Appearance matters more than taste for meat substitutes, says study

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Meat substitutes Soybean

The appearance of meat substitutes in a meal may have more of an effect on consumer acceptance than flavour and texture, suggests a new study.

Meat consumption has come under the spotlight in recent times, as excessive consumption of meat, especially red meat, has been linked to increased risk of various cancers and other lifestyle diseases. In addition, high demand for animal derived proteins is adding to climate change and sustainability concerns.

Some countries, such as Sweden and Germany, have incorporated environmental advice on meat eating into dietary guidelines alongside health advice.

In 2007 Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and winner of the 2007 Noel Peace Prize, suggested that food manufacturers could contribute to the reduction in meat consumption by tweaking product formulations to replace some of the meat in prepared foods with alternatives.

Researchers for the new study, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Food Quality and Preference​, set out to investigate the role of meal context on the acceptance of meat substitutes. They focused on Quorn (mycoprotein and egg white, pieces and mince), tofu strips (soy bean curd and olive oil), Tivall stir fry pieces (soy, egg and pea proteins, vegetable oil), Goodbite chicken style (soy, egg and wheat proteins), and Vivera vega stir fry pieces (soy protein and olive oil).

Ninety three participants were recruited in the Wageningen area of The Netherlands. Vegetarians and people with allergies to any of the replacements were excluded, and the participants had varying levels of meat consumption. In general, use of meat substitutes was low, however.

On 10 days within a two week period the participants attended a central location and took part in two tests. The first assessed the role of appropriateness and meal context on acceptance, and meat substitutes of the same brand and constitution, but with a different shape and appearance (pieces versus mince) were served in four different meal concepts (rice, spaghetti, soup, and salad). Participants appropriateness, liking, and intention to use the meat substitute before and after tasting.

In the second part, five meat substitutes in the same form were used in the same basic white rice dish. Appropriateness was assessed before and after tasting, as was overall liking, product liking, and intention to use a dish with the meat substitute.

Finally, the participants were given the same rice dish with chicken fillet pieces. This was to get an idea of relative heights of the meat substitute scores.

Findings and implications

The researchers found that acceptance of the meat substitutes was influenced by the overall meal concept, and appropriateness of a meal substitute in a meal as rated before tasting tended to influence acceptance of the meal.

The researchers concluded that: “For meat substitutes to be accepted by non-vegetarian customers, they should fit in the meal, and for that, the shape and appearance seem important.

“The ingredients and flavour and texture of the meat substitutes did not seem to be crucial for the acceptance of the meals with meat substitutes.”

Sensory research including descriptive analysis is planned, but for food product development the team said there needs to be more emphasis on consumer evaluation of meal combinations instead of on the sensory properties of the individual product.


Food Quality and Preference (in press)

DOI: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2010.10.006

“Consumer acceptance and appropriateness of meat substitutes in a meal context”

Authors: Elzerman, J., Hoek, A., van Boekel, M., Luning, P.

Related topics Market Trends Proteins

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