When the director of German meat giant, Rügenwalder Mühle, called sausages ‘the cigarette of the future’ in an interview with Die Welt and said he wanted at least 30% of the company’s sales to come from its vegetarian range by 2019, he provoked the ire of his colleagues in the meat industry, who had already called him a traitor.
But for Euromonitor analyst, Wiebke Schoon, his comments accompany a new era of vegetarian products that are not primarily aimed at vegetarians.
“Meat substitutes have been available for a while, but remained a niche product with a per capita of 0.1 kg per person in 2013. The kinds of product being launched in Germany now, however, are focussed on the mainstream market,” she says in an online blog.
“Surprisingly, German companies that are traditionally associated with manufacturing meat products are now entering this market for meat substitutes, going so far as to launch meat imitations using the same
brands as their meat-filled counterparts. It seems unlikely to appeal to consumers who refuse to purchase meat due to animal welfare concerns, but it may be the start of a new era of vegetarian products in the mainstream market.”
Schoon says these products are unlikely to appeal to vegetarian consumers concerned with animal welfare. Nevertheless, precisely because they are being marketed to the meat-eating masses, such products have the potential to facilitate a long-term change in consumption habits.
According to Mintel analyst, Katya Witham, greater visibility of such products on supermarket shelves serves to increase their familiarity, explaining their popularity among younger generations – a kind of virtuous circle.
“As well as being more willing to try new foods, younger consumers tend to integrate meat alternatives into their meals more frequently because they have grown up seeing a wider selection of meat substitutes at retail outlets, as opposed to older consumers who may be less familiar with the products,” said Witham.
How much is it actually worth?
According to Schoon, a comparison between the volumes of meat products being shifted compared to meat substitutes, shows an opposing trend. “[This] seems to indicate that meat substitutes are developing strongly at the expense of meat. In 2015, meat substitutes registered strong double-digit growth rates, whereas meat sales were declining."
In the next five years, Euromonitor data predicts a compound annual growth rate of 12% for volume sales of meat substitutes while processed meals sales will sit at 1%, with similar levels expected for fresh meat.
However, substitute products are growing from a very small base and so actual figures remain small - meat substitute sales of 13,000 tonnes are dwarfed by the total volume size of fresh and processed meat at 5 million tonnes in 2015, says Schoon.
But the trend towards non-vegetarian meat is not limited to Germany.
Mintel data suggests that one in eight UK shoppers is keen to replace half of their meat purchases for vegetable protein, while researchers at the University of Wageningen found that 75% of Dutch consumers had at least one meat-free day per week.
And Rügenwalder Mühle is counting on it being a growing trend: “We have yet to master other challenges such as the topic of ‘vegan.’ And when it comes to "separate production" we are not there yet either. [But] we have already begun to plan our own production site exclusively to prepare vegetarian and vegan products,” says the company’s website.