Growing plant-based food

The analysis by AstraRicerche and the plant-based products group of the Unione Italiana Food: for consumers, they are good and tasty (71.3%), digestible (71.1%), an aid for correct nutrition (71%) and for the Planet (70.3%), made on the basis of ingredients of natural origin (70.3%) and high quality (70%)

More than 1 out of 2 Italians buy them regularly (25% of those who have never tried them declare that they will) and they record continuous growth rates every year (in 2022, +2.8% in volume). They are plant-based products. But who consumes them, does he really know them? Are you clear about their characteristics? 75.5% of those who already know these products know exactly what plant-based products are made of (with peaks of 80% among regular consumers and older age groups) and only 1.4% declare that they do not know it (the remaining 23.1% show that they have partial knowledge of these products). This is the photo taken by a survey by AstraRicerche and the plant-based products group of the Unione Italiana Food (Association of direct representation of product categories in the food sector in Italy and in Europe), which compared 1,200 people between connoisseurs of plant-based products, consumers (regular and occasional) and non-consumers.

Let’s start with the numbers: in 2022, against an overall increase in packs sold of almost 3 percentage points, the 2-digit volume increments of burgers and ready meals (cured meat gastronomy + 11.7%); the +2.6% achieved by ice creams and desserts and the stability of vegetable drinks (+0.4%). A growth in line with the 16% of Italians who say they want to increase the purchase of these products. “Plant-based products have entered the food choices of many families in Italy – explains Salvatore Castiglione, president of the plant-based products group of Unione Italiana Food – Today there are over 22 million consumers who have tried them and then regularly included them in their diet. A strong and undeniably conscious choice. Research confirms it: those who buy them know what plant-based products are and what they are eating”.

ATTENTIVE AND INFORMED CONSUMERS – Among Italians who know plant-based foods, 2 out of 3 consume them habitually and 1 out of 4 have introduced them into their diet on a weekly basis. Only 2 out of 10 have never consumed them. Among those who know them, the level of awareness of the composition of these products is high, thanks primarily to the fact that 79.3% read the labels (a percentage that rises to 92% among the most loyal consumers). For plant-based consumers, the labels are ‘explicit and clear’ for 80.9%; ‘easy to read and understandable’ for 78.3%; ‘truthful and not misleading’ for 79.6%. Only 6% find the current names of plant-based products unclear. Those who know them believe them good and tasty (71.3%), digestible (71.1%), an aid for correct nutrition (71%) and for the Planet (70.3%), made on the basis of ingredients of natural origin (70, 3%) and high quality (70%). The consumption of these products is driven by the need to vary the daily diet (41.8%, a percentage that rises among the over 55s) and the desire to reduce the consumption of animal proteins (32.2%). “These products – explains Castiglione – are children of our time. And, like all ‘successful’ products, they respond to a stated and perceived need of the consumer. Their market has grown in recent years and is destined to grow again for a very simple reason: plant-based products meet and satisfy the demands of many consumers. Let’s not forget that products such as aubergine balls, chickpea fritters or almond milk (just to name a few) have always been part of our culinary culture. In recent years, the corporate world has responded to a growing consumer demand, working to bring good, quality products to tables that are simple to prepare and enjoy, in line with our Mediterranean diet. That’s the secret of their success.”

HEALTHY AND SUSTAINABLE – 82.7% of those interviewed who know plant-based products highlight their advantages in terms of “health”, because they allow you to vary your diet, because they are made with ingredients of natural origin and because they allow you to eat larger quantities of vegetables. Almost 8 out of 10 (77.5%) connoisseurs agree on the sustainability of plant-based products. Doubts remain only among a 15.6% who think that these products are made by consuming a lot of water and producing large quantities of carbon dioxide. “It is an erroneous belief: numerous studies have shown that plant products have a reduced environmental impact – explains Ludovica Principato, aggregate professor in Sustainable Business Management, Roma Tre University – The food we consume has a direct impact on the Planet and on the use of its natural resources: in Italy, the widespread adoption of a ‘flexitarian’ diet, richer in foods of plant origin (such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes), would have very positive effects in terms of lower gas emissions greenhouse and greater water savings, compared to the current diet followed in our country”.

VEGETABLE BURGERS AND SYNTHETIC MEAT – Only 4.7% of those interviewed have never heard of vegetable burgers. And only 1 in 10 people (13.6%) among those familiar with veggie burgers and synthetic meat still hold the mistaken belief that these products could be the same thing. “Plant-based and synthetic meat (or, better said, ‘cultured meat’) are two totally different products, both in terms of characteristics and composition and have no points of contact. Anyone who thinks differently has an erroneous belief that needs to be debunked. Plant-based products are born from vegetable raw materials that have always been part of our diet, such as vegetables, cereals and legumes. The novelty of these products lies in the way these ingredients are used to create something that did not exist before and that consumers have shown to appreciate – declares Lucilla Titta, nutritionist biologist and researcher at the European Institute of Oncology-IEO in Milan – I plant-based products should be considered as ‘allies’ that can help us integrate the portions of cereals, legumes, fruit and vegetables and maintain a balanced diet”.

VEGETABLE DRINKS – Nine out of 10 Italians know plant-based drinks and of these at least 1 out of 2 consumes them regularly (50.4%). They choose them above all for breakfast (65.8%) and as a snack (25.7%). The reasons for their success are related to diet (41.7%), but also to the desire to try something new and curiosity (35%).