Purchasing with principles. Ethical consumerism. Moral consumption. It’s a trend that’s picked up a lot of names as it has grown more widespread year after year.

It’s also one of the biggest drivers behind the notable growth in alternative protein products.

According to research just released, 76% of consumers who decided to reduce their consumption of animal protein said the decision was at least “somewhat impacted” by concerns about climate change. It’s one of the most illuminating findings that emerged from a nationally representative 1,000-person online survey on alternative proteins developed cooperatively between C.O.nxt and Menu Matters.

61% of those surveyed said they had consumed a plant-based burger

This trend notably comes as alternative proteins have taken big leaps in popularity. In 2019, only 42% had even heard of Impossible Burgers and/or Beyond Burgers. Now, over 61% of those surveyed said they had consumed a plant-based burger (the most popular form of alternative proteins) and of those who did, most said they will continue purchasing.

It matters most to Gen Z and urban residents.

The youngest consumers and city-dwellers are significantly more likely to indicate the environment plays some role in their consumption decisions. The reasons can be widespread, with a reduction of global warming, energy conservation and hunger concerns all playing a part.

It’s a recent trend, too. Over 70% said they’ve reduced animal protein in the last two years, and 44.6% indicated that climate concerns was a very important or critical part of the decision.

Over 54% of consumers said they want claims backed by scientific data

Won’t accept on blind faith.

Evidence that alternative proteins actually aid the environment will be crucial moving forward. Over 54% of consumers said they want claims backed by scientific data and the majority expect these claims to be backed by creditable organizations. Gen Z places a greater emphasis on international organizations than any other demographic.

Saving the environment and eating well too.

Only 12.8% of consumers say they plan to eliminate all animal protein from their diet. The vast majority of consumers want to mix meat and alternative proteins in some way.

Blend burgers provide a clue where consumption patterns might settle. Though blend burgers currently have low awareness and low trial, consumers who have tried one see them as a key tool to increase plant-based foods in their diet. Those who have tried say blend burgers are more appealing than other burger alternatives.

Whatever the solution, Gen Z consumers have made it clear that the environment and food will be linked more closely with each passing year.

“Gen Z in particular, but younger consumers more broadly, are at least trying to put their money where their convictions are,” Maeve Webster, President of Menu Matters, said. “Whether that will result in a seismic change in consumption patterns or more nuanced shifts is yet to be seen, but there’s no doubt that mindfulness about consumption and how choices may impact climate change, environmental welfare, social justice, and worker issues will be part of the conversation for younger consumers as they navigate food choices going forward.”

The rising trend of ethical consumerism will set new expectations for branding and communications. At C.O.nxt, we’re fully prepared to help companies navigate this new reality. Our team of subject matter experts focuses on food and agriculture—farm field to processing to entrée on a plate. We always have our finger on the pulse of food trends that are shaping the industry. We can help you build a new brand, protect a current one or target the right audiences. Let’s talk when the time is right to handle your next strategic marketing and communications challenge: Marcy Tessmann, marcy@co-nxt.com.