Eating meatless burgers about identity – consumer researcher

More and more Canadians are eating meatless burgers.

But why?

Some say it’s healthier, many are concerned about animal welfare and others are worried about climate change. But the real reason may be deeper and more personal, says the leader of a public research firm in Ottawa.

Food choices have become a critical part of personal identity and eating a veggie burger tells the world that you’re a good person.

“What does this say about who I am, that I would put a Beyond Meat pattie on my plate?” said David Coletto, chief executive officer of Abacus Data, which specializes in consumer research and polling. “The power of psychology and the role that identify increasingly plays in our food consumption, I think it’s a critical thing for food processors (and producers) to think about.”

Last fall, Coletto and his colleagues at Abacus Data surveyed about 2,000 Canadians – to understand what people are thinking and saying about meatless burgers. He presented the results the morning of March 10, during a webinar hosted by the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity.

Coletto wanted to know how many Canadians are avoiding meat. But more significantly, why they’re choosing a veggie burger over a Big Mac.

One of the ‘why’ questions was about peer pressure.

“We asked Canadians, have you ever been shamed or judged for… eating meat?”

The overall number was fairly low. Only nine percent.

It was much higher for Millennials.

Sixteen percent of Canadians under 40 said they had been judged or shamed for eating meat.

“It’s still a small minority, but that 16 percent are being influenced,” he said. “And we’ve heard lots of survey research… of parents being judged for the choices they make. And moms really worrying about how others think. The choices they make, in what their kids eat, is a big part of that.”

Coletto’s conclusion, about social pressure and personal brand, matches what others say about the under-40 generation and ‘mom guilt’.

“Moms want to do the best for their kids and there’s a lot of guilt associated with (doing the right thing),” said Dara Gurau, a registered dietitian who works at a hospital in Toronto.

“There’s a lot of pressure to feel you have to buy the best food. Whether it’s organic, or the healthiest food for their kids,” added Gurau, who with her colleague Erin MacGregor, operates a food and nutrition communication business, called

Stressed about food? Relax.

When it comes to meatless burgers and avoiding animal protein, the social pressure is much larger than the socially anxious moms of downtown Toronto.

Nine percent of Canadian adults said they have been shamed or judged for eating meat.

That’s not tiny. It represents three million Canadians, Coletto said.

Which leads to the question, what’s causing the judgement?

“You have to look at the drivers. I think a lot of it has to do with people’s concerns about animal welfare. About climate change,” he said during the webinar.

“If we are very concerned about our image, about our own personal brand and what those (food) choices (say)… I think it’s important for (the meat sector) to always think about that.”

If Coletto is correct, then meat producers and processors need to consider the brand surrounding their product. And how that brand affects the personal ‘identity’ of a consumer who eats beef, chicken or pork.

The Abacus Data survey suggests Canadians have an ethical dilemma when it comes to meat.

When asked about the attributes of a burger vs. a meatless burger, Canadians said:

• Meat tastes better

• Eating meat makes them happier

• Is more natural

• Is more likely to satisfy their hunger

• And would likely cost less

“The only item in which the (meatless burger) beats meat… was environmental impact,” Coletto said. “It’s indicative of where the consumer headspace is at and shows the conflict that is going through that average consumer’s mind… and the choices that they’re making.”

If Canadians, especially younger Canadians, become more and more worried about climate change and the environment, it could tip the scale towards meatless burgers, Coletto said.

“Then you can see the pull that meat alternatives are going to have,” he said.

But if the meat sector can demonstrate how it’s cutting greenhouse gas emissions and preserving the environment, it could tip the scale in the other direction.

How many Canadians eat meatless burgers and meat alternatives?

Abacus Data, a public research firm in Ottawa, surveyed about 2,000 Canadian adults in November. The survey didn’t distinguish between types of meat, i.e., chicken, beef, pork or lamb.

They found that:

• 32 percent of Canadian adults say they have reduced the amount of meat they consume, in the past year. That represents about nine million Canadians.

• Another 19 percent are thinking about reducing the amount of meat they consume

• 21 percent said they have reduced their consumption of animal-based products, not including meat

• Eight percent of consumers are certain to purchase to meatless burgers and alternatives that look like meat

• 34 percent are likely to purchase

Source: Abacus Data


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