Market & Trends

The Protein Tracker Shows Meat and Dairy Dominate Dutch Diets, Urges Changes for Plant-Based Shift

The Protein Tracker, conducted for the first time in 2023 by Wageningen Economic Research on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV), shows that meat and “a lot” of dairy (in total 61%) dominate consumption, perception, supply, and marketing attention in The Netherlands.

Marleen Onwezen, expertise leader in Consumer Behavior at Wageningen University, notes that while there is a shift toward plant-based options — 39% of the total protein consumption — it is not happening quickly enough. 

“We need powerful interventions”

The Protein Tracker is a collaboration between the Green Protein Alliance, ProVeg Nederland, and Dutch supermarkets (as 70% of foods are sold through these retailers) to monitor the protein transition annually.

In March 2022, the Dutch government set a national target for a 50/50 ratio of plant-based vs animal proteins consumed by 2030, following recommendations from the Netherlands Nutrition Centre.

family BBQ
Image courtesy ProVeg International

Motivations and buyer intent 

In addition to monitoring annual animal and plant protein consumption, The Protein Tracker provides unique insights into the consumption patterns of individual consumers and groups and the reasons behind their choices. It also maps the supply of all protein products and their presentation in supermarkets.

To carry out this first study, 570 consumers provided information on their consumption habits through an app. At the same time, a survey of 3,000 respondents was used to understand the reasons why consumers choose plant-based and animal proteins.

Regarding motivations, the study shows that Dutch consumers continue to show a strong preference for meat and dairy products over their plant-based alternatives. It also shows that consumer habits with animal products are deeply rooted and harder to change: the participants said they were better at cooking animal proteins and felt that eating them is more socially accepted.

When looking at purchase intent, the tracker shows that it is higher for meat and dairy than for plant proteins. Consumers showed the most interest in products such as nuts and legumes, which are minimally processed. 

© Albert Heijn

The food “environment”

The authors argue that consumers are less motivated to buy plant-based proteins partly because the “environment” does not give attention to plant-based options.

According to Onwezen, supermarkets tend to prioritize animal products over plant-based products in terms of promotion, shelf space, portion sizes, prices, private labels, and variety. 32% of online products are plant-based proteins, while 68% are animal proteins. He says this imbalance makes it easier and more attractive for consumers to choose animal proteins over plant-based alternatives.

“Supermarkets seem afraid of losing customers if they promote plant-based options too much. Another factor is that most recipes offered to consumers still contain animal products. This lack of skills leaves consumers unable to prepare tasty plant-based meals,” he argues.

To change consumer behavior, the authors suggest a better supply chain, more marketing for plant-based alternatives, a supportive food environment, and improving consumers’ cooking skills.

“This tracker shows that there is work to be done to progress faster towards a 50/50 balance. We need powerful interventions. Plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy should be much more promoted based on the strength of those products.

“For example, by emphasizing that you don’t need meat for the tastiest curry, but lentils, beans, or legumes. Skills are important too: you need to know how to roast cauliflower tastefully,” Onwezen concludes.

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