Home » From meat to legumes – tracking Europe’s shift towards more plant-based eating

From meat to legumes – tracking Europe’s shift towards more plant-based eating

12 key insights from the recent Smart Protein Consumer Survey, Evolving Appetites

If you’re in the food and beverage industry, tracking consumer preferences is an important part of your work. What do consumers want from their diet? How are their food preferences and motivations evolving? Do you need to adapt your business and/or products, and if so, how? The answers to these questions are vital in order to optimise sales, and need to be monitored as consumer preferences shift.

ProVeg’s 2021 survey report, What Consumers Want, took a deep dive into this topic and showed that European consumers are increasingly moving towards plant-based foods. 

Towards the end of last year, we did another round of research in order to explore how consumer behaviour has changed over the last three years. Our newly published pan-European survey, Evolving Appetites,1 builds on the research published in 2021, and provides up-to-date insights and recommendations.

The primary objective of this follow-up study was to track and analyse whether the trends that we identified in 2021 have persisted, intensified, plateaued, or fallen. By identifying changes in consumer preferences and behaviours, the report provides a deeper understanding of the long-term potential of the plant-based sector and the extent to which further growth can be sustained.

Read on for the key takeaways from the report, which provide crucial insights into Europe’s rapidly evolving plant-based sector. 

12 key takeaways

1. 51% of European meat eaters reduced their annual meat intake in 2023, with Germany, France, and Italy leading the way.

2. 38% of Europeans are currently following a flexitarian, pescatarian, vegan, or vegetarian diet. 

  • Germany has the largest flexitarian segment, at 40%
  • Denmark has the largest proportion of pescatarians (6%)
  • The UK has the largest proportion of vegetarians (7%)
  • Austria has the largest proportion of vegans (5%)

3. Of those European meat consumers who are reducing their meat intake, 47% are doing so for health concerns, 29% for animal welfare, and 26% for the environment.

4. The flexitarian diet transcends generational backgrounds, with 29% of Boomers, 27% of Gen X, 26% of Gen Z, and 28% of Millennials identifying as flexitarian.

5. 53% of Europeans intend to increase their consumption of legumes, while 40% plan on consuming more plant-based alternatives.

6. Plant-based milk is the most-consumed plant-based alternative, with 36% of Europeans consuming it at least once a week.

7. 38% of respondents cite price as the most significant obstacle to purchasing plant-based alternatives, followed by taste (30%).

8. 46% of Europeans trust plant-based alternatives more than they did three years ago.

9. Plant-based protein is the most-trusted alternative protein source, followed by cultivated meat, and fungi.

10. Health and nutrition-society websites, search engines, and government websites are the most trusted sources when it comes to finding accurate plant-based information.

11. 63% of Europeans would like to see improved transparency in product certification.

12. 62% of Europeans agree that foods that positively impact health and the environment should be tax-exempt.

Actionable insights

As we move towards a more sustainable future, staying carefully attuned to consumer preferences and market dynamics will be crucial in order to harness the full potential of the alternative protein sector, and its benefits for the environment and human health.

  • Fine-tune your marketing: Given the significant drop in meat consumption across Europe, especially in Germany, France, and Italy, alternative protein businesses should tailor their marketing strategies to highlight the benefits of their products and attract motivated consumers. Emphasising health, animal welfare, and environmental benefits tends to resonate well with consumers.
  • Cater to flexitarian preferences: With a sizable portion of Europeans following flexitarian diets, non-vegan businesses should diversify their product offerings to accommodate for this trend. By introducing more plant-based options into your product lines and offering plant-based products that replicate animal-based products, you’ll appeal to this growing consumer segment. Given that flexitarianism is multi-generational, it makes sense to ensure that your product ranges cater to all generational contexts.
  • Focus on legumes and plant-based alternatives: Since the majority of Europeans say that they intend increasing their consumption of legumes and plant-based alternatives, food companies should prioritise developing innovative products in these categories. Investing in research and development to enhance taste and texture will help to address consumer concerns about plant-based alternatives.
  • Address price and taste concerns: Price and taste remain significant obstacles to purchasing plant-based alternatives. Businesses should strive to improve the affordability and palatability of these products through economies of scale, innovative formulations, and strategic pricing.
  • Build trust through transparency: Given the growing trust in plant-based alternatives, companies should prioritise transparency in their production processes and ingredient sourcing. Simply claiming that a product is environmentally friendly or healthy is no longer sufficient. Consumers now want clear evidence and certified measurements that demonstrate improved traceability and ingredient-origin tracking. Providing clear and accurate information about products and their certifications can enhance consumer trust and loyalty. Businesses can also play a role in educating consumers about alternative proteins. Providing clear explanations and promoting awareness campaigns will empower consumers to make informed choices.
  • Collaborate for impact: Given the complex challenges related to sustainability and alternative proteins, businesses can achieve greater impact by collaborating with other stakeholders, including NGOs, research institutions, and government agencies. By pooling resources and expertise, collective efforts can drive positive change across the food industry.
  • Monitor and adapt: Consumer preferences and attitudes toward alternative proteins are evolving rapidly. Food-industry professionals should continuously monitor market trends, conduct consumer research, and adapt their strategies accordingly in order to stay ahead of the curve and remain relevant in a constantly changing landscape.
  • Highlight the benefits of cultivated-protein: Companies that are working on cultivated products should capitalise on the increasing acceptability of cultivated protein by highlighting its benefits and potential, thus attracting a wider future consumer base. Promoting cultivated meat aligns with the goals of sustainability, animal welfare, food security, and public health. Cultivated meat holds promise as a solution for meeting consumers’ high taste expectations for alternative proteins. This is especially true for less-engaged market segments such as omnivores and men.
  • Make plant-based foods accessible: With European meat consumers decreasing their yearly meat intake, food-industry stakeholders need to ensure that popular plant-based food products are available and accessible at favoured points of purchase and consumption. 
  • Use trusted information sources: Health and nutrition-society websites, search engines, and government websites are seen as trusted sources for information about plant-based eating. Collaborating with these platforms or leveraging their credibility in marketing campaigns can help businesses to establish trust with consumers who are seeking accurate information about alternative proteins.
  • Advocate for tax incentives: With the majority of Europeans supporting tax exemptions on foods that positively impact health and the environment, food-industry professionals should advocate for policy changes that incentivise the production and consumption of sustainable protein sources. Engaging with policymakers and participating in industry coalitions can amplify these efforts.

To learn more about Europe’s shift towards plant-based eating, access the full Smart Protein report, here.

Do you need some help with your plant-based strategy? Our experts are only an email away – drop us a line at [email protected].


  1. Carried out in partnership with the University of Copenhagen and Ghent University, as part of the Smart Protein project.

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