Fresh Food

How Protein Purchases Are Evolving: Report

Study from Acosta tackles the plant-based movement, label confusion
Acosta meat chart
Infographic courtesy of Acosta

Protein continues to be an extremely influential factor when making grocery store purchases, with plant-based protein options stepping into the spotlight, according to Acosta's 2018 Progressing Protein Palates report. 

As such, 81% of millennials, 74% of Gen Xers, 66% of boomers and 50% of silents said protein content was extremely or very important, although these different generations view protein differently, the sales and marketing agency said. Older generations, for example, were more concerned with the health benefits of protein, while younger generations wanted it to aid in exercise recovery and make them feel full. 

Colin Stewart, SVP of insights for Acosta, said while protein continues to be a mainstay in shopping baskets, the kind of protein consumers are buying is evolving with plant-based meat alternative sales "booming" among vegetarians and meat eaters alike.

"Another trend we’re seeing with protein is that shoppers are paying more attention to labels and product claims, but are overwhelmed and confused about what they mean," he noted, adding that the study also points out that more awareness needs to be built around certain product claims on meat such as all-natural and antibiotic-/hormone-free.

Additionally, Stewart said milennials are purchasing more fresh meat and plant-based alternatives than any other generation, and "retailers need to understand they are the key to growth in the protein arena."

Here are some of the report's key findings: 

Fresh Meat Trends

  • Eighteen percent of shoppers are buying more fresh meat versus last year, while 12% are buying less, mainly due to price and striving to eat healthiereither for themselves or their family.
  • Forty-one percent of millennials are buying more fresh meat versus a year ago, more than all other generations combined.
  • Beef and chicken dominate, making up 70% of all fresh meat sold.
  • Sales of natural/organic meat are outpacing conventional options.  

Plant-Based Meat Alternatives and Alternative Diets

  • Shoppers are recognizing that consuming meat isn’t the only way to pack protein, with plant-based meat alternatives growing 11% in units year over year.
  • Seventy-one percent of shoppers who purchase plant-based meat alternatives also eat meat. 
  • Meat eaters are interested in alternative diets that are either less focused on meats or do not contain meat altogether, especially millennials. Twenty-six percent of millennials are already vegetarian/vegan.
  • Thirty-four percent of meat-eating millennials eat four or more vegetarian dinners each week. 

Label Confusion and Product Claims

  • Shoppers struggle with the wide assortment of product claims, especially with those related to meat products, such as humanely-raised and free-range claims.
  • Millennials ranked the highest for label confusion, with 58% having some level of confusion. Gen X is the most informed generation of shoppers. 
  • Of shoppers who feel confused/overwhelmed, 85% would like to have more information available to understand claims and labels.
  • For Gen X shoppers that feel they are knowledgeable about various product claims, they feel most strongly about no added hormones/antibiotics and all-natural products.


Acosta’s 2018 Progressing Protein Palates report was completed via an online survey of the company’s customer shopper community panel as well as multiple Nielsen research reports.


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