ScenoProt is a six-year Finnish project with a budget of six million euros bringing together scientists, consumer specialists and product developers with the aim of developing new sources of sustainable protein for food security and environmental sustainability.
One year after its launch, it has conducted an online survey in four northern European countries - Finland, Germany, Sweden and the UK – in order to gauge how these sustainable proteins should be positioned.
Funded by the Finnish government, the purpose of ScenoProt is to provide a wide range of stakeholders with the tools to promote more protein sustainable sources.
Partners in the project include Luke Natural Resources Institute of Finland, the universities of Helsinki, Jyväskylä and Turku and Dutch industry sustainability organisation TNO.
Using nationally-representative samples of around 500 respondents for each country, they provide insights on consumption patterns, awareness of and attitudes towards alternative sources of protein and willingness to make dietary changes in the foreseeable future.
Development manager at Finnish consumer insight company Makery which is collaborating in the project, Antti Isokangas, told us: “Even though the trend is on the rise, protein in plants is still an issue consumers need education on, as well as nutrition in general."
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When asked which of the survey's insights stood out, Isokangas said he had been “a bit surprised” by how much importance Finnish people gave to protein compared to other nationalities.
“There might be many reasons for this, but an important factor is undoubtedly the heavy advertising and consumer education done by Valio, the biggest dairy manufacturer in Finland. They’ve kept up the discussion about the importance of proteins for years now and it seems a lot of it has stuck to Finnish consumers, maybe more than their Central European peers.”
The UK had the highest number of respondents who identify as vegetarian while Finland has the lowest.
More than half of all nationalities were reluctant to try insects but around 13% already had. Of this 13%, half said they would eat insects again.
Interestingly, said Isokangas, although Germans are less willing to try all-vegetarian meals, they see vegetables as an important source of protein.
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According to Isokangas, the most important insight to be gleaned from the survey regarding the launch and marketing of sustainable protein products is that there is definite market potential for plant-based proteins in each of the researched countries.
“Marketing should be clear and emphasize the benefits of vegetarian eating but without blaming meat-eaters. Generally, food is considered food regardless of whether it is from animal or plant origin. Hence, the vegetarian or vegan nature of any given product should not be over-emphasised. Health, convenience and taste are the overriding factors among mainstream consumer."
While companies can allude to sustainability issues in marketing, they should be aware it is not the driving factor behind the consumer shift towards plant-based proteins.
“Taste is still the most important reason for eating vegetarian protein products. Taste is also the most important issue to address in advertisement or any communication about new products but in addition to that, healthiness, quality and ease of use are also important.”
Plant-based proteins are also seen as being more expensive than animal-derived protein even though this is not always the case, said Isokangas
“Again, it implies that raising awareness is key,” he added.