Plant-based meat was once seen as the big disrupter to the meat industry, but findings suggest its growth is losing steam. The latest CivicScience data show that there has been a monthly increase in the total percentage of poll respondents who have tried plant-based meat (now at 40%), such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods products, however the number of those who have tried it and dislike it is steadily increasing while those who intend to try it trends downward.

Where does interest still stand among the population? What does the future look like for plant-based meat?

Adopters Are a Mixed Bag

Looking at age, adults under age 35 continue to be the biggest adopters of plant-based meat. Around one-quarter have tried it and like it, compared to just 17% of those aged 55 and older. Gen Z adults (18-24) in particular remain the most likely to plan to try it. Intent to try severely drops off among those 35 and older, suggesting little to no additional gains to be made for the industry with this audience.

When it comes to dietary choices, the latest CivicScience data confirm that meat is still a big part of the American diet. Meat eaters make up the majority of the population and a whopping 89% say they consume it at least weekly (n=2,595). Interestingly, the majority of people who have tried plant-based meat are not wholly plant-based eaters. Just 20% of adopters are vegetarians and vegans, while an additional 20% occasionally eat meat. However, more than 60% of adopters are regular meat eaters (n=4,063).

Among the plant-meat buyer base, strict vegetarians and vegans make up a smaller share (39%) than occasional or regular meat eaters (61%), indicating that conversion has likely cut into the meat industry. However, the small percentage of regular buyers – just 7% of total respondents purchase them regularly – suggests minimal gains. Fifteen percent say they purchase plant-based meat products on occasion but not regularly. 

In the Fast-Food Industry

For years, quick-service restaurants have been experimenting with adding plant-based meat options to their menus. Data show an increasing number of people say they are at least somewhat likely to try plant-based meat items at fast-food restaurants, growing from 31% in October 2022 to 34% at the time of writing (n=2,585).

This could be good news for McDonald’s, who is pioneering their new vegan chicken nugget – the McPlant Nugget – in Germany, although just 8% of U.S. respondents say they are ‘very likely’ to try them and 15% are ‘somewhat likely’ if they become available in the states (n=4,071).

However, adoption hasn’t been strong enough for many U.S. fast-food chains to keep items on their menus after trialing them, such as Taco Bell’s plant-based carne asada and McDonald’s McPlant Burger.

What may be fueling Americans to try plant-based meat, to continue buying it, or to avoid it altogether? For one, it’s typically not more cost-effective for consumers than meat. Simultaneously, there seems to be a high degree of confusion and uncertainty about whether or not plant-based meat is actually a healthier option or better for the environment than meat, as shown in recent CivicScience polling data. Just 22% of respondents say they believe plant-based meat is better for both their health and the environment, while 30% say the contrary (it’s not better for either health or the environment). The remainder remain split over the perceived health and environmental benefits or are uncertain (n=2,596).

Cultivated Meat – the Meat of the Future?

Based on the data, plant-based meat may hold onto its current base but does not look poised to keep growing. What about other alternative options, such as cultivated meat (also termed ‘cell-based meat’) which is harvested from animal cells and cultivated and grown in a lab? Although it’s currently not yet commercially available, CivicScience gauged initial interest if this kind of product were to become an option.

Interestingly, 23% of people said they would be at least ‘somewhat likely’ to try cultivated meat. Like plant-based meat, this suggests there could be an early audience for bio-engineered meat, but the majority of the U.S. population is likely to stick with conventionally-produced meat.

Want more insights? Work with us to get a deeper look at this rapidly developing market.