Alternative proteins are increasingly accepted, but consumption is lagging behind

Published on
November 18, 2020

More and more Dutch people want to eat less meat, dairy and eggs and are more likely to opt for alternative protein sources. They also see themselves less and less as typical meat eaters. Yet the consumption of alternative proteins - fish, pulses, meat substitutes, seaweed and insects - is not increasing. This is shown in research by Wageningen Economic Research.

Researchers of Wageningen Economic Research mapped the protein consumption of 2,461 Dutch in 2019. They also wanted to know what the respondents think of the different protein sources and what the motivation behind their consumption behaviour is. The study was a repeat of an earlier measurement in 2015, which also allows comparisons over time.

Less typical meat eaters

More and more Dutch consider themselves vegetarian, vegan or flexitarian: 12.6%, against 8.6% in 2015. The group that does not recognize themselves in these descriptions, but says they consciously eat less meat, has also grown in four years : from 13.5% to 18.4%. The number of people who see themselves as typical meat eaters shows a declining trend: from more than 71% in 2015 to more than 61% in 2019.

Gap between intentions and behaviour

The researchers discovered that the Dutch are increasingly prepared to consume alternative proteins - especially fish and pulses. It is also striking that a vegetarian burger made from "cultivated meat" is seen as the best alternative to the traditional hamburger, probably because it most closely resembles it. Insects and - to a lesser extent - seaweed are clearly less accepted as alternatives.

Despite all intentions, the consumption of alternative proteins has not increased; there is a gap between intentions and behaviour. Meat remains by far the most important protein source for most Dutch and is served more than five times a week. Chicken is on the rise and is eaten almost four times a week. Of the vegetable protein sources, only meat substitutes show a slight increase: they are on the menu about twice a week. Just like in 2015, pulses were the most consumed vegetable protein source in 2019 (three times a week).

The respondents were also asked about their motives for choosing alternative proteins. Taste and smell, health and "degree of naturalness" are often mentioned for all alternatives. With pulses, price also plays an important role, while "convenience" is often cited as an important choice argument for fish.

Norms and emotions

It is striking that not only conscious considerations play an important role in understanding the acceptance of alternative proteins. The social norm - "how should we behave?" - plays an important role. Personal emotions also strongly determine whether alternatives are accepted or not. Fish and pulses evoke the strongest positive emotions. Insects hardly evoke positive feelings and can count on the most disgust.

First step towards less meat consumption

Proteins are a vital part of a healthy diet. Animal proteins - meat, dairy and eggs - are increasingly consumed worldwide, but their production has a significant negative impact on the environment. There are also health risks associated with the consumption of animal proteins, such as red meat. It is therefore necessary to replace at least some of the animal proteins with proteins from vegetable, sustainable sources. Wageningen Economic Research's study shows that more and more Dutch are willing to take that step. Although consumption is not yet or hardly increasing, according to the researchers, this willingness is a step towards less meat consumption and more vegetable proteins on the plate.