Consumer Trends of 2021: Meat and Meat Alternatives
As we close out 2021, the Instacart Ads team has been looking at consumer trends in online grocery shopping over the past year. In each article of this series we’ll dive into a specific category or categories impacted by a diet trend and look at the influence it had throughout 2021.
In this article, we look at the impact of flexitarian diets on meat and meat alternatives over 2021. With anonymized and aggregated data from consumers ordering groceries from hundreds of different retailers across the US and Canada, we are in a unique position to conduct both broad- and narrow-focused analysis of online grocery shopping.
And since our data comes from orders placed at over 700 different retailers on the Instacart marketplace, representing more than 65,000 stores across more than 5,500 cities in the U.S.—including all 50 states—our data speaks to what happened in online grocery shopping and can act as a barometer for the wider grocery landscape.
A recent article on Yahoo! Finance, noted that while overall interest in vegetarianism and veganism has not grown notably, “the “Flexitarian Diet”, one that encourages vegetarianism but allows for meat eating is gaining a following.”
There are a few factors contributing to the growing popularity of the flexitarian diet. Proponents of the flexitarian diet point to its health benefits while the EAT-Lancet Commission, studying the impact of what we eat on greenhouse gas emissions, suggests “that if people simply followed more “flexitarian” diets, this would have a huge planetary impact.” Plus, as a recently reported an Oxford study found, “going vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian could reduce food costs by up to one-third.”
That this diet is more flexible than being strictly vegetarian or vegan — hence its name — while still offering some of the benefits likely contributes to its popularity as well.
Evidence of flexitarian diets on the Instacart marketplace
In January 2021, the household penetration of meat-alternatives reached 25% and the number of meat alternative products sold grew to its highest level in February — a growth of 43% compared to July 2019, with peak-pandemic only reaching 35% growth. 2021 also saw a 16% growth in users purchasing fresh meat and seafood alternatives compared to 2020.
But it’s not just meat alternatives which factor into flexitarian diets. Chicken, turkey, and fowl meat are typically favored over pork and red meat within flexitarian diets. And sales in those categories are all growing.
Looking at the nine month period from January to September in 2021, sales of chicken grew 32% compared to the same period in 2020. The turkey and fowl and exotics sales were also up more than sales of beef in 2021—
If we look at the makeup of meat sales in 2021, we see that 65% comes from chicken, turkey, fowl, or meat alternatives, up from 61% in 2020. A rise which can be explained, in part, by the rising popularity of the flexitarian diet.
Interestingly, the basket affinities for meat alternatives reveal many other products which would fit in the typical flexitarian diet. Of the top 25 over-indexing categories, 12 were beans or meat/egg alternatives — staples of plant-based or plant-first diets.
So it seems the popularity of meat-alternatives, as well as other components of a flexitarian diet which has consumers moving away from beef and pork like chicken, turkey, and fowl, continued to grow in 2021. Check back with us this time next year to review what 2022 had in store for this and other diets and consumer trends.
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