Flexitarian opportunity

As demand for plant-based food rises, could mince meet veg in a winning combo to please pressure groups and processors? 

Asda has just added three flexitarian meat products to its growing protein-cum- vegetable food portfolio. Brand new for 2018 is a beef and lentil burger, a beef and haricot bean meatball range and, the cream of the crop, a beef and chickpea mince. Ambitious? Yes. Admirable? Yes. Advantageous for meat processors. Probably, yes.

“We’re pleased to already have a flexitarian product within our mince offering – ‘Lean and Bean’ is a blend of beef mince and haricot beans and has been part of the range for almost two years now,” an Asda spokeswoman tells Meat Trades Journal.

Alongside Asda, hard discounter Aldi, which continues to pile the pressure on the Big Four with its famously low prices, also launched a flexitarian mince. Its ‘Full of Beans’ blend of lean mince and haricot beans was a limited-edition product rolled out in January 2017. Could we see it return this year? An Aldi spokesperson was vague in response to our question: “Our Full of Beans mince specialbuy was hugely popular and showed the demand for new, healthy twists on everyday classics. Our core fresh mince range remains a firm favourite with shoppers, and we’re always considering additions to the range.” So, the door appears to be ajar for more flexitarian mince.

With Asda and Aldi tapping into the reducetarian trend, does this mean we should expect to see mince combined more often with vegetables in retail packs in the future? “Yes, I would expect to see more of these types of products across red meat which combine meat and veg solutions going forward,” says Matt Southam, senior multiple retail trade manager at AHDB Beef & Lamb.

Other supermarkets were coy on flexitarian mince launches. Sainsbury’s declined to comment when asked if it planned to launch new flexitarian mince products, and none of the other major retailers – aside from Aldi and Asda – responded to a request for comment.

But we know that at least two supermarkets have sniffed out flexitarian mince opportunities, and Southam expects more to follow suit. So with calls to reduce meat consumption not going away, how the meat industry manages flexitarianism could be the difference between capturing opportunity or being left behind. So what do mince producers need to be aware of?

Many of us, whether we admit it or not, are fast becoming meat reducers. Statistically, nearly seven in 10 adults could be considered frequently cheating vegetarians, according to consumer trends analysts Foresight Factory. Driving this is concern around perceptions of animal protein’s negative impact on human health and environmental degradation.

Meat substitute company Quorn has tapped into this concious consumerism to great effect. Its meteoric success in recent years is fuelling the Monde Nissin Corporation-owned entity’s aspiration to become a billion-dollar company by 2027. Sky-high growth is propelled by one of Quorn’s original products: mince. It has a water footprint 10 times smaller than equivalent beef mince and has given eco-friendly shoppers an easy way to reduce meat content. While it has undoubtedly muscled in on the meat industry’s market share, the business does not view itself as an existential threat. Julian Cooke, head of UK category management at Quorn, explains: “We don’t see ourselves as a threat, given our size in comparison to the meat industry as a whole. However, we are proud of the fact we offer great-tasting food which meets a wide range of occasions, providing shoppers with the inspiration they’re looking for in everyday meals and snacks.”

 Cooke adds that influential animal welfare groups WWF and the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR) Initiative claim the developed world needs to reduce meat consumption by 40% by 2030. Rather than cutting meat out, retailers such as Asda and Aldi show there is another path: combining meat and veg in meal solutions. Flexitarian mince is a small market – so small no readily available data exists on it – but it is a trend to watch.

The fresh mince market in Britain is worth £859m, according to Kantar Worldpanel data covering 52 w/e to 5 November 2017. Its total read of the mince market refers to beef, lamb and pork only – poultry is excluded. With inflation rising at retail level, the macro trend shows shoppers buying mince more frequently and new consumers also entering the market. Beef, pork and lamb have seen their respective share of value sales rise by single digits. But after seeing market share dip across several meat categories in 2017, Sainsbury’s, holding the second-largest mince market share (13%), saw the only dip of the Big Four for mince, with its share falling 5%.

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