Sizzling 90% growth for plant-based burgers, while sales of sandwiches fall
Annual consumer spend finally exceeds pre-COVID 19 levels, but visits to OOH hospitality venues remain lower at -10%
25% of Europe’s Big 5 population follow a flexitarian diet – a trend that is set to grow in 2024
BRACKNELL, UK – 8 November 2023 – According to research from Circana, the leading advisor on consumer complexity that formerly traded as IRI and The NPD Group, the trend towards eating alternative plant-based meat protein products in out- of-home (OOH) eateries, such as quick-service restaurants (QSR), cafes, pubs and bars has increased by 48% in servings compared to 2019 across Europe’s ‘Big 5’ countries[i]. While in other food protein categories, the number of total product servings declined, including Beef (-5%), Pork (-16%), Chicken (-5%), Fish/Seafood (-13%) and Other Meat (-20%).
Typically made from ingredients such as soy, peas, lentils and mushrooms, plant-based products have gained popularity in recent years as fast-food chains and restaurants throughout Europe cater to growing consumer demands for sustainable, healthier and cruelty-free menu options. When asked about factors influencing their choice of where to eat out, 45% of consumers overall said they are more loyal to restaurants that care about sustainability, with Italy voicing the strongest concern (56%) followed by Spain (49%) and the UK least concerned (38%).
Burgers buck the trend
Compared with other protein categories, plant-based meat has shown the strongest growth across all formats since 2019[ii]. The overall number of servings across each protein category has dropped with one exception – burgers. While the number of servings in other formats, such as sandwiches and wraps, have declined, the burger has shown solid growth (Beef +4%, Chicken +16%, Fish +11%, Other Meat +14%).[iii]
Despite the overall decline in visits to OOH venues, plant-based burgers grew significantly by +90% during year ending August 2023 vs 2019, and +20% year-on-year ending Aug 2023, representing a quarter (25%) of the total contribution made to growth in burgers.[iv]
Jochen Pinsker, Senior Vice President of European Foodservice, Circana commented: “Plant-based products, particularly burgers, are experiencing significant market growth and are expected to sustain this momentum through 2024.This is particularly evident as the quality, taste, and texture of plant-based products have significantly improved compared to offerings from just a few years ago.”
He continued: “The decline in servings we’re seeing across different protein groups is more to do with the format in which products are being sold, rather than the actual type of protein. For example, while overall beef servings are down, beef burgers are up by 4%. Chicken and fish burgers are also up with significant growth coming from plant-based burgers. With more people working from home, servings of other formats once consumed in the workplace, such as sandwiches and wraps, have declined.”
Dieting and inclusivity
Growing demand for plant-based items, like burgers, is being fuelled by consumers choosing to reduce their meat intake. Although vegan and vegetarian consumers make up only 2% and 6% of the population respectively within the ‘Big 5’ EU countries, a significant 25% of the total population follows a flexitarian diet, rising to 28% among individuals aged 18-34. Choosing vegan or vegetarian diets or adopting a flexitarian approach towards food preferences is most popular in Germany (44%)
followed by France (35%) and lowest in southern European countries such as Spain (24%) and Italy (30%).
However, these same countries scored highly when asked about inclusivity. Consumers from Spain (66%), UK (64%) and Italy (63%) said they expected restaurants to satisfy the needs of customers with special dietary or food needs, compared to Germany (41%) and France (55%) which scored lowest.
Offering advice to the OOH hospitality industry, Pinsker added: “There are huge opportunities to tap into this growing market. To be successful you must ensure complete transparency with consumers when it comes to revealing the exact source of your meat replacement ingredients; be cautious not to set excessively high prices for plant-based alternatives, especially given the current high prices of meat and consumers’ sensitivity to price hikes; when promoting new plant-based menu options, emphasise their positive environmental impact rather than their health benefits; and like meat-based items, ensure your plant-based offerings are portable and give careful thought to packaging and product hold time. This is crucial in a world where an increasing number of meals are consumed off-premises and taken home.”
Future trends for plant-based alternatives in the OOH sector:
- Forecasted spending in the Foodservice market for 2024 is €338 bn across the ‘Big 5’, marking an increase of €17 bn from 2023 and €29 bn above the pre-COVID 19 level in 2019. Most of this growth is anticipated in the Quick Service sector of the industry.
- The number of vegetarians and vegans in Europe is expected to remain stable. However, the increase in flexitarians will continue to rise. Around 56 million consumers across the ‘Big 5’ population have yet to sample plant-based meat replacement servings in restaurants, but say they are willing to try.
- Younger consumers have a stronger connection with plant-based alternatives, which will likely persist into their older years. This trend presents a long-term growth opportunity for these products.
- Historically, plant-based options were often more expensive than meat, but this trend is shifting. In the future, it’s anticipated that plant-based alternatives might even become more cost-effective than their meat counterparts.
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- Foodservice Consumer Sentiment Survey: Europe, September 2023
- State of the European Foodservice Industry 2023: August 2023
 and 2 Europe’s ‘Big 5’ include Germany, France, UK, Italy and Spain – Product servings in millions and change/trend vs 2019. Plant based meat – 48%. Source CREST.
3 Chicken nuggets, wings and strips was the only other format to grow in addition to burgers (+10%). 4 Big 5 Total Market – Contribution to burger growth TTM Aug 23 vs 2019 of all burgers. The remainder comprises Beef (30%), Chicken (35%), Fish/Seafood (5%), Other Meat (5%).