The consumption and production of animal proteins (i.e. meat and dairy products) are one of the most environmentally harmful food products. Despite this, the meat consumption is rising globally. However, the number of flexitarians is increasing as well. But on which motives and perceptions do flexitarians base their food choices? How can we understand the choices the flexitarian consumer makes? To find out, a quantitative research approach was conducted by sending out a survey. This resulted in 194 participants, who were segmented into meat eaters, flexitarians and vegetarians. The results of these different groups were statistically compared in order to see how the motivation and perception differed between the groups.
To research which motives consumers had for making food choices, the following 13 different food choice motives were included: health, mood, convenience, sensory appeal, natural content, price, weight control, familiarity, animal welfare, environmental protection, political values, religion and social justice. From all of these, it turned out that the flexitarian consumer found social justice, sensory appeal and animal welfare most important and familiarity of the product least important. On the other hand, it appears that vegetarians are mostly motivated by social justice, animal welfare and environmental protection. This suggests that flexitarians make their choices more based on the taste, smell and appearance of a product compared to vegetarians.
Different aspects of perception were researched to find out how consumers perceive meat products and plant-based products. Compared to plant-based products, it was found that flexitarians perceive meat as less traditional, unhealthier, more expensive, less environmentally friendly, more difficult to prepare and less nutritious. When the perceptions of meat eaters, flexitarians and vegetarians were being compared, it was found that flexitarians perceive meat as significantly unhealthier and environmentally unfriendlier compared to meat eaters. Moreover, they perceive meat as tasty; however, they perceive it as less tasty compared to meat eaters. Additionally, when it comes to the perception of plant-based products, it appeared that flexitarians perceive plant-based products as cheaper, tastier, easier to prepare and higher in protein compared to meat eaters. They also see plant-based products as tastier compared to meat eaters. However, it was also found that meat eaters do not necessarily perceive plant-based products as disgusting, which could be an interesting angle to do further research on.
Concluding, the combination of flexitarians’ motivation and perception suggests that they are very aware of the environmental and health effects of meat products. However, the high importance of sensory appeal in the flexitarian consumer might explain why they still consume meat products from time to time, since they consider meat to be tasty.