The Covid-19 Pandemic, Consumer Habits, and Plant-Based Meats

I recently attended a fascinating talk from Fiona Lavelle (Queen’s University Belfast) titled “From the pandemic to the pan: A cross-continental overview of changes in consumers cooking and food practices during COVID-19”.

She spoke about her research which gives a cross continental overview of changes in consumers cooking and food practices during covid-19. Pre pandemic studies were showing there was a global decrease in cooking skills and cooking confidence. This is important because cooking is linked with a better diet quality as well as weight management. Studies have found that increasing your cooking increases intake of fruit and veg and decreases consumption of sweets and fast food. Both these changes are linked to better mental wellbeing.

The major barrier people stated as the reason for this decrease in cooking was time. There were dramatic societal changes from the pandemic; business closures, working from home, stay home campaigns, movement restrictions. These all led to increased time. Fiona’s online study involved 2300 participants from Ireland, Great Britain, USA, and New Zealand. Overall, it was found there was a decrease in readymade ingredients, increase in fresh ingredients, increase in baking (banana bread anyone?) and less food waste. Great Britain also saw an increase in fruit consumption and almost all countries saw an increase in vegetable consumption.

I believe this rise in fruit and vegetable intake is part of a wider trend of consumers switching to plant-based alternatives and increasing their fruit and vegetable intakes. According to a study by Polaris Market Research, the global plant-based meat market size is expected to reach USD 35.4 billion by 2027. It is widely reported that the largest consumer trend leading to the explosion of this sector is changes to mainstream diets with more people becoming ‘flexitarian’, vegetarian and vegan. This trend has been somewhat accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic due to the fact that the production of artificial meat is more automated, less labour dependent and, resultingly, less vulnerable to shortages in staff and price fluctuations.  The US alone saw a 200% increase in sales of meat substitutes in the week ending April 18, compared with a 30% increase over the same period for fresh meat, as reported by consumer data group Nielsen.

As an active investor, it’s important to spot trends early. The combination of a growth in consumers looking to eat alternative foods and the rapid innovation of new products make this sector, in my view, a particularly attractive investment. This is one of the reasons I decided to invest in companies such as ALOHA and JUST that offer alternative protein products.