Last week, the Belgian Association for Research and Expertise for Consumer Organisations published a survey studying the trends and habits around meat consumption in Belgium, revealing that 11 % of Belgians identify as non-meat eaters.
In Belgium, meat is traditionally part of the daily diet. In 2020, Belgians ate an average of 82 kg of meat per year, double the global average (OECD-FAO, 2021). 89% of this came from four sources: pork, beef, veal, and poultry (Statbel, 2021).
“We wondered whether Belgian consumers are ready to adjust their protein consumption to a more sustainable pattern; to consume less animal protein and more often consume alternative proteins,” said the study’s authors.
The survey revealed a twofold scenario. Firstly, most consumers (56-65%) intend to keep their meat consumption the same in the coming years, and a small fraction, some 5-15%, even want to increase their intake of animal meat.
Secondly, despite a majority wanting to stick with the status quo, a growing proportion of Belgians want to consume less meat and are increasingly finding alternatives: the survey revealed that 11% of the Belgian population currently consists of non-meat eaters (with some eating fish) and 31% of flexitarians who consume meat occasionally but actively seek alternatives.
Recent developments in Belgian market
Similarly, a study by the University of Bath in 2021, in collaboration with Belgian animal welfare organisation GAIA, found a “significant increase” in interest and support for plant-based products among Belgian consumers, also revealing that plant-based alternatives were more appealing to women, while cultured meat was more appealing to men.
In July of 2022, Belgian multinational retail giant Delhaize revealed plans to double its plant-based offering by 2025, citing an expected mass transition to plant-based food in the near future: “We expect a massive shift to plant-based food,” explained spokesman Roel Dekelver.
In the cultivated scene, MeaTech, now known as Steakholder Foods, last year announced a 21,530 sq. ft. pilot plant in Belgium, to produce cultured chicken fat for industry collaboration, following its acquisition of Belgian cultured chicken fat producer Peace of Meat.
Differing tendencies among demographics
According to the newly published study, there is a general tendency, mainly among young people, women, higher social groups, and residents of Brussels, to eat less meat. These groups are open to reducing their meat consumption and willing to replace meat with vegetables and plant-based substitutes in the future.
The survey found that 41% of Belgians are currently seeking meat alternatives when they shop. However, the most common meat substitutes were other animal proteins such as fish, eggs, and dairy, rather than plant-based alternatives.
“Vegetable proteins,” says the study, are already eaten by one in five as an alternative to meat. A quarter of Belgians want to eat more plant proteins in the future and are considering hybrid meats. Additionally, one-fifth of consumers surveyed looking for meat alternatives said they would consider cultivated meat or insect products instead of meat.
Price as major barrier
Belgian meat-eaters consider the cost price of meat substitutes too high, with only 21% having a positive attitude toward the prices of soy products compared to 34% for veal and 61% for poultry.
“Price is a major barrier in consumer purchases. However, the price difference between plant-based and conventional meat substitutes is getting smaller in Belgian and Dutch supermarkets,” concludes the study.