The rise of the flexitarians

05 Apr 2018


There is a food revolution coming the way of farmers and growers, caused by consumers around the world changing their eating habits. Beef + Lamb NZ recently released an excellent report discussing this trend, along with what it means for the future of meat farming in New Zealand. The report and its summary can be found here.

The consumers causing this trend have been given a name: flexitarians. This describes someone whose diet is primarily vegetarian, but who occasionally eats meat or fish. Nielsen data released in 2017 showed that sales of plant-based food in the United States rose 8.1%, while demand for meat and dairy fell by 0.2%.

The world’s largest food company Nestle, through their recently acquired subsidiary Sweet Earth Natural Foods, is selling plant based burgers and similar goods in more than 10,000 stores in the US. Nestle’s chairman has said that “in the United States we’re experiencing a shift towards plant based proteins ... as many as 50% of consumers are now seeking more plant based foods in their diet and 40% are open to reducing their traditional meat consumption.”

This change was started by meatless burgers in the US, produced by Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat and sold in stores and restaurant chains across the country. These trends are discussed in detail in Beef and Lamb’s report, which concludes that “what used to be a small, niche movement to abandon meat has become a cultural narrative lead by mainstream influencers that pushes the reduction of red meat as mindful, health-forward lifestyle choice rooted in building energy, power and performance”.

The implications are both obvious and ominous; what do they mean for New Zealand’s farmers of meat and growers of plants? The Beef and Lamb report identifies 7 strategic responses that I’ve summarised into two overall themes: make New Zealand red meat a premium, must-have product for high value consumers, and move into plant based proteins taking the lead in New Zealand.

Our primary sector is facing a strong challenge to what we have traditionally grown and sold. Consumers’ preferences are changing, and so we too need to adapt to these changes to continue our growth and contribution to the New Zealand’s economy.

This is such a challenge that all parts of the primary sector, animal and plant, need to work together. The alternative proteins report is a call to arms, and one we should listen to.

- Mike Chapman, CEO