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Is 2020 the Year of the Flexitarian?

Mar 02, 2020

Is 2020 the Year of the Flexitarian?

When The Economist published its “The World in 2019,” it declared 2019 to be “The Year of the Vegan.”1  Could be The Economist was right.  If Burger King’s new Impossible Burger offering is any clue, vegan and vegetarian diets are more widely followed now than ever before.

But, as most bold trends are apt to do, vegan and vegetarianism diets have given rise to a moderated version of the no-animal-product rules of vegans.  Enter Flexitarianism.

Flexitarian rules

There are no rules!  It’s more of a lifestyle than a diet.  There are, however, some principles that define this way of eating:2

  • Eat mostly fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains
  • Focus on protein from plants instead of animals
  • Be flexible and incorporate meat and animal products from time to time
  • Eat the least processed, most natural form of foods
  • Limit added sugar and sweets

To many consumers, this sounds like a sensible plan – one they can follow and that provides many health benefits. 

  • An overwhelming majority -- 85% -- of consumers agreed that plant-based foods can be just as satisfying as animal proteins and products.3
  • One-third of consumers agree that a plant-based meal can include some meat, and another third say some animal-based products like cheese or eggs are acceptable.4
  • Reducing meat portions to make room for more fruits and veggies is appealing to 62% of consumers and is equally appealing across generations.5

So, flexitarianism seems a logical, easy to follow, sensible adaption of the more stringent and limited vegan and vegetarian diets.  The healthy benefits without the sacrifice.

Flexitarians are trading meat for health

Increasingly, consumers are choosing plant-based meals.  That’s even become a regular phrase in our collective food vocabulary, “plant-based foods.”

What drives consumers to choose this new way of eating?  Sixty-six percent of consumers say the top reason for increasing plant-based food consumption is to improve health.6

Interestingly 22% of consumers say they limit their meat, poultry, or seafood consumption, and 7% avoid them altogether. But that 7% is up from 1% in 2014, a whopping 700% increase in that time.7  That’s a big shift from the days when vegetarianism was a fringe behavior.

Still, nearly 75% of consumers consider themselves full omnivores who freely eat animal proteins.8

  • Regardless of the diet they practice, however, more than half of consumers say they are eating more fruit and vegetables than a year ago.9

Plants are really yummy, but not across the generations

How does this work in consumers’ minds?  There’s a mind-shift going on, working from eating healthier for oneself, to eating lower on the food chain to helping the planet.  Having the word “flexible” built into this way of eating makes it appealing. 

It’s no surprise, then, that when asked which of several plant-based dietary shifts were most appealing, eating more fruits and vegetables was by far the top choice.10

Not all patrons favor this shift equally, however.  Replacing animal products with plant-based alternatives is far more popular among Gen Z and Millennials than with Gen X or Boomers as 56%, 45%, and 28%, respectively, find it appealing.11

These consumers are voting with the food choices, as well.  About one in three Gen Z and Millennials eats plant-based protein alternatives at least once a week, compared to around one in five Gen X and one in ten Boomers.12

Top 3 reasons operators are adding plant-based alternatives

When you ask someone, what are the top three most important things when choosing real estate, they say, “Location, location, location!”  When we look at the top three reasons for adding plant-based foods, seems like number one on the list could eclipse all the others – customers are asking for them!

Here they are though – the top three reasons operators are adding plant-based foods to their menus:13

  1. Customers are asking for them—59%
  2. Meeting the increase in vegetarian/vegan customers—51%
  3. To offer more healthy options—46%


1 The Economist special edition, “The World in 2019”

2  What Is the Flexitarian Diet?  December 12, 2019,

3, 4, 5 6 Datassential SNAP™ Keynote, 2018

7 Forbes, The Growing Acceptance of Veganism, November 2 2018,

8, 9, 10, 11,12, 13 Datassential SNAP™ Keynote, 2018