Europe experiences a food revolution amidst health consciousness, sustainability goals, and challenges

27 December 2023

Europe is undergoing a historical transformation in its eating habits, with an increasing number of consumers declining meat in favour of more sustainable and healthy options. This trend, supported by a new study by the Smart Protein Project, shows a significant push towards plant-based diets. Find out more in this article.

Reducing meat consumption is a growing trend

According to a recent study conducted under the EU-funded Smart Protein Project, in collaboration with ProVeg, Innova Market Insights, the University of Copenhagen, and Ghent University, over half of European consumers (51%) have decreased their meat consumption. This extensive study, involving more than 7,500 adults across 10 European countries, underscores a significant trend towards a more conscientious and environmentally friendly dietary approach. Let’s find out why.

Health emerges as the primary motivation behind this reduction in meat consumption, with 47% of participants citing it as a key factor. Concerns for animal welfare (29%) and environmental protection (26%) are other important reasons behind this choice, and signal an increased awareness of the benefits of a plant-based diet.

The primary driver behind the reduction in meat consumption is health, identified by 47% of participants as a key motivator. Concerns for animal welfare (29%) and environmental protection (26%) are also significant factors influencing this dietary shift. These findings reflect an escalating awareness of the benefits of a plant-based diet.

The report also shows an increase in the consumption of plant-based products, with 28% of respondents consuming them at least once a week. Plant-based dairy products in particular have been very successful, with 36% of the surveyed sample indicating regular consumption of plant-based milk, followed by 33% for plant-based yogurt, and 31% for plant-based cheese on a weekly basis. The driving factors behind this preference are taste, health, and affordability.

The main challenges of the near future

Despite the increasing interest in plant-based products, the Smart Protein Project report highlights substantial barriers to wider adoption. The high cost of plant-based products, cited by 38% of respondents, and occasionally unsatisfactory taste, mentioned by 30%, emerge as significant hurdles. These perceptions highlight critical challenges for the industry, as well as the need for increased investment in research and development to improve these aspects.

The report also highlights the important role of governments and food policies in supporting this transition. 59% of respondents support measures to encourage farmers to transition towards cultivating crops for the plant-based sector, demonstrating strong public support for systemic change.

The findings of this study point to a significant change in European eating habits. However, expediting the transition to more sustainable diets means overcoming the challenges of improving taste and lowering market prices. Investment in research and development, as well as supportive public policies, will be crucial to achieve a food transition that is not only sustainable, but also promotes the health of European consumers.