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Most plant-based meat alternative buyers also buy meat: an analysis of household demographics, habit formation, and buying behavior among meat alternative buyers

market share

Out of sales for all ground meat products, the PBMA expenditure share averaged 5.91% from November 2018 to November 2020 (Fig. 1). The PBMA expenditure share gradually increased over the two year span, reaching a peak of 8.40% in October of 2020, nearly double the initial 4.22% share in November of 2018. The average PBMA expenditure experienced a sharp but brief decline after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March and April of 2020 but then recovered in May of 2020 (Supplementary Fig. 1).

Figure 1

Plant-based meat alternative share of total expenditures on ground meat products.

General household behavior

Over the two year period 7,761 (19.92%) households purchased a PBMA at least once, while 31,205 (80.08%) households did not purchase a PBMA over this time (Fig. 2). Among the full sample of consumers, 12.03% of households bought PBMAs on multiple occasions (Supplementary Table 2). Among households who purchased a PBMA at least once, 60.15% made a repeat purchase, meaning 39.85% of PBMA buyers tried the product only once.

Figure 2
figure 2

Overview of household consumption behavior.

In the full sample of households, a small fraction 1,089 (2.79%) avoided ground meat entirely and only purchased PBMAs (Fig. 2). Of consumers who bought a PBMA, 14.51% did not purchase ground meat. Most households (85.97%) that purchased a PBMA also purchased ground meat at some point in the two year span; however, as will soon be noted, PBMA buyers tended to spend less on ground meat than non-PBMA buyers.

Demographic analysis of household behavior and market analysis

Table 1 shows that a larger share of households with a younger head (< 35) were more likely to make a PBMA purchase than middle age (35–64) and older households (65 +). A significantly higher share of single female households purchased a PBMA than married or single male households. Additionally, a higher share of households that have an employed or college educated household head purchased from PBMA. Significant differences were also observed among income groups, revealing households with an income of $100,000 or greater were more likely to purchase a PBMA than middle income ($45,000-$99,999) or lower income (< $45,000) households. A larger share of African-American and other minority households purchased a PBMA than white households. Also, larger share of households with children purchased a PBMA than households without children.

Table 1 Meat alternative buying behavior by demographic category.

A majority of consumers did not purchase PBMAs at all. Non-PBMA buyers were more likely to be older (65 +), married or single males, not college educated, not employed, lower income (< 45,000), white, and without children, rather than younger (< 35) or middle age (35–64), single females, college educated, employed, middle ($45,000–$99,999) or high income (>$100,000), non-white racially, and without children.

About 12% of households (6,670), purchased both ground meat and PBMAs over the two year period. A higher share of dual-purchasing households is younger (< 35), married or single females, college educated, employed, high income (> $100,000), African American, Hispanic, and with children present, relative to dual-purchasing households that are middle age (35–64) and older (65 +), single males, non-college educated, unemployed, low (< $45,000) or middle income ($45,000–$99,999), white or other race, non-Hispanic, and without children present. Among the sample of PBMA buyers, a majority purchased both PBMA and ground meat, but a higher share of households with more members (≥ 2), married, not college educated, high income (> $100,000), African-American, and with children present, purchased both PBMAs and ground meat relative households that were smaller (< 2), unmarried, college educated, lower (< $45,000) or middle income ($45,000–$99,999), white or other race, and without children present.

Some households (1087) did not purchase any ground meat (Fig. 2). This group has a higher share of households that are younger (< 35), with one member, single males, college educated, employed, a minority that is not African-American, and without children, relative to households that are middle age (35). –64) and older (65 +), with more than one member, single females or married, non-college educated, unemployed, white or African American, and with children present. In the sample limited to PBMA buyers, a higher share of households with one member, single male heads, college educated, low income (< $45,000), of a minority that is not African American, and without children present only purchased PBMAs relative to households with more than one member, single females or married, not college educated, middle ($45,000–$99,999) or high income (> $100,000), white or African-American, and with children present.

A higher share of households that are younger (< 35), single females, college educated, employed, higher income (> $100.00), African-American and other minorities, and with children present made repeat purchases of PBMAs, relative to households that are middle age (35–64) and older (65 +), single males or married, non-college educated, unemployed, low (< $45,000) or middle income ($45,000–$99,999), white, and without children present. Among the sample of PBMA purchasing households, there were few significant differences among demographic groups in repeat-purchase behavior.

The average household in the full sample purchased 1.53 PBMA units (or 0.01 per week) over the two year span (Table 2; Supplementary Fig. 2). Looking only at PBMA purchasing households, 7.69 units on average were purchased in two years (or 0.07 per week). Among all households, two-year expenditures on PBMAs were $6.78 ($0.07/week) and was $34.04 (or $0.33/week) for households who purchased at least one PBMA. By contrast, households spent $112.74 over the two year period on ground meat ($1.08/week). For households who purchased a PBMA, they spent $97.78 on ground meat ($0.94/week).

Table 2 Average Expenditures and Units Purchased.

The time-series nature of the data permits an investigation of purchase behavior before and after the first observed purchase of PBMAs. The average PBMA purchasing household bought more ground beef units (0.02) and spent more on ground beef ($0.50) after their first PBMA purchase then they did prior to their first PBMA purchase. New entrants into the PBMA market declined over the period (Supplementary Fig. 5) despite the fact that even at the period’s end, 80.08% had not purchased a PBMA. The week in which the highest number of households entered was the initial week of the study period in November 11, 2018.

Significant differences between demographic groups were observed with regards to PBMA units purchased and expenditures (Table 3). In the full sample, the households that purchased the most PBMA units and had the highest expenditures were younger (< 35), single males, college educated, employed, high income (> $100,000), and African-American compared to households that are middle age (45–64) or older (65 +), single females or married, not college educated, unemployed, low (< $45,000) or middle income ($45,000-$99,999), and white or another minority race. Among the sample including only PBMA buyers, single males purchased more units and had higher expenditure than females.

Table 3 Meat alternative units purchased and expenditure by demographic category.

The number of ground meat units purchased was significantly lower among PBMA buyers (15.43) than the full sample (15.95), which resulted in significantly lower total expenditure on ground meat options (Table 2) among PBMA buyers compared to non-buyers. The average ground meat units and expenditure purchased by a buyer in the market was fairly constant across the two year span with a spike during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020 (Supplementary Fig. 3; Supplementary Fig. 4) .

Households that are middle age (35–64), have more members (≥ 2), married, not college educated, employed, high income (> $100,000), white, not Hispanic, and have children present purchased and spent more on ground meat than households that are younger (< 35) or older (65 +), fewer members (< 2), single males or females, college educated, unemployed, low (< $45,000) or middle ($45,000–$99,999) income, minority race, Hispanic, and without children present (Table 4). Among the sample limited to PBMA buyers, households that are middle age (35–64), have more members, married, not college educated, employed, high income (> $100,000), non-Hispanic, and with children present purchased more ground meat units and had higher expenditure on average than households that are younger (< 35) or older (65 +), have fewer members, single males or females, college educated, unemployed, low (< $45,000) or middle ($45,000–$99,999) income , Hispanic, and without children present. One primary difference is that African-American households purchased the most units, but white households had the highest expenditure. Similar patterns are observed for the weekly household average expenditure and purchases of ground meat where households that are middle age (35–64), larger, married, not college educated, employed, higher income (> $100,000), white, non-Hispanic, and with children present had the highest weekly expenditures and units purchased.

Table 4 Ground meat units purchased and expenditure by demographic categories.

Potential implications of COVID-19

Additionally, we analyzed if the potential effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the units purchased and expenditures on ground meats and PBMAs among the full sample of households and PBMA buyers (Supplementary Table 3). We observed that among both the full sample and PBMA buyers that purchases of ground meats and PBMAs significantly increased after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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