Green vegetables with wooden spoon

Vegetarianism is growing in Germany with Canadean reporting that 6% of Germans are veggie or vegan, rising to 10% amongst 15-17 year olds. Added to this, 26% are choosing a low-meat diet that restricts meat intake without entirely cutting it out, leading to a new trend of being 'flexitarian.'

More than half of vegetarians say animal welfare is their main reason for avoidance, while 71% of minimal meat eaters cite health concerns. A lesser but important factor is the public's increasing interest in the environmental impact and lack of sustainability in livestock farming.

Due to this the demand for vegetarian foods has expanded beyond the established success of meat and dairy sectors to encompass cereals, pastas and even confectionery; so much so that Canadean reports that 11% of all new sweets launched in Germany between 2014 and 2015 were vegetarian or vegan – a massive leap from 3% in 2013.

"Consumers are developing greater ingredient awareness, which is encourage a 'back-to-basics' approach to foods."

Excelling in this area is German confectioner Katjes, the manufacturer of UK store Marks and Spencers' Percy Pigs. The popularity of Katjes' jelly, foam and yogurt sweets is partly due to their clear labelling as both veggie and natural, but the broader shift toward vegetarian products is more complex.

Protein power

In the last few years, protein has been touted as a wonderstuff – it fills you up to aid weightloss, repairs muscles for bulking, and helps both children and seniors maintain muscle mass. But the Western solution to maximising protein intake has been to eat large quantities of meat, with little carbohydrates or fibre, creating problems with digestion, heart and bone health. As health has been such a dominant driver of the trend, market analysts at Canadean predict it will also spur a drop in people's hunger for meat.

"Consumers will switch away from animal to plant-based protein sources," states Canadean report The Inevitable 'High Protein' Backlash: When and What Next? "This helps to prevent digestive health problems such as colorectal cancer that can be problematic in a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet."

Canadean also says that more consumers are developing greater ingredient awareness which is encouraging a 'back-to-basics' approach to foods, with many preferring balanced diets that are "natural [and] less processed" rather than excluding entire food groups. The preference for healthy, locally sourced and sustainable foods, as well as a deeper concern about ingredient quality, is opening up opportunities for vegetarian and vegan options in new market sectors, such as sweets.

Hidden horrors

Although we don't eat sweets to supplement our protein intake, the spotlight on ingredients has highlighted the unappealing aspects of certain products, such as gelatine – the thickening protein derived from leftover animal tissue.

"Consumers are seeking 'a more natural, cleaner image' from their foods."

Canadean senior consumer insight analyst Melanie Felgate says that globally consumers are becoming more aware and discerning about the quality of ingredients in their foods. "As avoidance of animal-derived protein strengthens, it will become increasingly important to specify the source of protein on-pack, rather than just focusing on the presence or amount of protein in a product," she says.

And this is not limited to meat, but includes sweeteners, additives and preservatives too, as Felgate explains the positive response to using "natural, low-calorie sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit, in place of sugar or aspartame; given that 'no added sugar' and 'free from artificial sweeteners' are the top two most appealing sweetener-related claims globally, when consumers are choosing food and drinks."

This is reinforced by Glanbia Nutritionals business development manager Vicky Fligel who said in Food Navigator that "people want to avoid artificial colours, flavours, sweeteners and preservatives but the trend is also about cutting down on sugar, using non-GMO ingredients and rBST-free dairy protein as well."

Sweet truth

Health and body image are key causes of over-consuming meat so learning the negative side effects, coupled with the benefits of plant protein, is sure to reduce reliance on animal products. With the lingering shadow of food scandals, ethics of farming and concerns about the environment, such a variety of issues are being presented that it is relevant to people across several demographics, contributing to the steady slope away from meat eating and a willingness to try new ingredients.

As Felgate says, consumers are seeking 'a more natural, cleaner image' from their foods.