By: Krystal Register, MS, RDN, LDN, Senior Director, Health & Well-being, FMI and Steve Markenson, Director, Research and Insights, FMI
The connection between eating more plants and better health is undeniable. But what exactly does it mean to eat more “plant-based?”
The Link Between Plants and Health
There is well established research that links nutrients we get from including (and enjoying) more plant foods—such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans, peas, lentils and fats and oils that come from plants, like avocado and olive oil—to better health. However, there currently is no widely recognized definition or clear parameters for what exactly is referred to as a “plant-based” food versus a “plant-based” diet, which can cause confusion for consumers, retailers and product suppliers alike.
Grounds for "Plant-Based" Confusion
Traditionally, many people, including registered dietitians, talk about “plant-based” diets that are foundationally based on foods from plants, but also include small portions of seafood and foods from animals such as meat, poultry, eggs and dairy, similar to recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines.
Some people consider “plant-based” to be strictly vegan, excluding any products from animals (though the strict vegan percentage of the population remains very small around ~5%).
With the recent boom in “plant-based” innovation, we see a plethora of new products hitting the shelves: alternatives to meat, poultry, seafood such as soy-based nuggets and meatless burgers; alternatives to dairy such as “milk” and yogurt made from nuts and oats; and alternatives to grains and starches such as cauliflower pizza crust and zucchini noodles.
With a variety of approaches, interpretations, products and diets, it’s easy to understand why there is confusion around plant-based foods and plant-based diets.
Questions for Consumers on Plant-Based Foods and Beverages
So, what do consumers consider to be “plant-based?” And what foods and beverages are consumers including if they seek to have more “plant-based” foods and beverages in their overall pattern of eating: more beans, peas and lentils or more soy-based meat alternatives and nut-based milk alternatives? And why are they choosing plant-based alternatives? Do shoppers make plant-based purchase decisions for health reasons, allergies and intolerances, cost, taste, concern about the environment or are they just looking for new options to try experimentally?
FMI has embarked on new research to gain insights into consumer and food retailer attitudes towards plant-based foods and beverages. To be released in July, this multi-faceted report is designed to develop a comprehensive perspective on plant-based foods and beverages in the food retail environment. Methodology includes a consumer survey, a digital ethnography report and multiple interviews with food industry retailers and product suppliers.
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