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Insects on the Plate? What Europeans Think About Alternative Protein Sources

FOOD & AGRICULTUREInsects on the Plate? What Europeans Think About Alternative Protein Sources

How Many Young Poles are “Food Innovators” Who Will Eagerly Try Chickpea Pâté? Why Do Parisians Like Seaweed and Tofu Salad? Will Italians Be Tempted by Beetle Skewers? Researchers from SWPS University Analyzed the Attitudes of European Citizens Towards Products from Alternative Protein Sources as Part of an International Project.

Faced with the fight against climate change, more and more people are modifying their diets, reducing or eliminating traditional sources of protein (such as beef, pork, poultry, dairy products) in favor of those with a smaller environmental footprint. These are the so-called alternative protein foods (APF), which can come from sources like legumes, seaweed, mushrooms, shellfish, and even insects.

Although Europe is a leading market for the production and sale of APF products and research on this topic is becoming more frequent, there has been a lack of summary regarding the differences in attitudes towards APF between different countries in Europe – says psychologist Hanna Zaleśkiewicz from the Center for Applied Research on Health and Health Behaviors CARE-BEH at SWPS University.

Researchers from SWPS University, along with experts from Germany, Denmark, Greece, Norway, and Italy, analyzed studies from 11 peer-reviewed journal databases. They included 25 studies covering 18 European countries in their analysis. The results were published in Food Quality and Preference. The analysis particularly focused on data from Denmark, Finland, Poland, the Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Germany.

Healthy and Ethical in Theory, but What About Practice?

Studies show that many consumers rate hybrid products, which combine traditional and alternative protein sources, higher in terms of health, ethical, environmental, and nutritional qualities compared to meat products. This trend is particularly evident among Danes, but also among consumers from other countries like the United Kingdom and Spain.

However, positive attitudes and beliefs do not always translate into a willingness to purchase such products. In 60% of the studies regarding the willingness to buy APF-based products, Danes rated it as low. In one such study, only 46% of them wanted to buy “hybrid meat” (a product combining plant and meat proteins), compared to 63% of consumers in Spain and 53% in the United Kingdom.

Few Polish “Food Innovators”

Studies show that consumers from Poland and the Czech Republic have less knowledge about innovative food products and a greater reluctance to purchase them compared to Danes or Germans.

These patterns should be considered in the context of consistently high meat consumption (compared to legumes) per person in countries like Poland during 2018-2020[2] – describes Hanna Zaleśkiewicz.

A comparison of German and Polish consumers (over the age of 55) indicated that Polish respondents had significantly lower knowledge of innovative food products (including those containing APF), were more indecisive in their decisions, and ultimately less likely to purchase such food.

In contrast, a study of young consumers showed that in Germany, so-called food innovators (those who buy novel food products as soon as they are introduced to the market) and “early adopters” (those who buy them after some consideration) make up 73% of the population.

This contrasts with the results observed among young people from Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. In these countries, “food innovators” and “early adopters” make up only 24-36% of young consumers. Among young consumers from Germany, there was also no strong reluctance to buy innovative APF, while 13-17% of consumers from Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia exhibited this reluctance.

An Insect on the Plate?

The analysis shows that consumers are reluctant to buy products where insects are the source of protein. In the United Kingdom and Spain, only 18-22% of respondents express a willingness to make such purchases. A more positive attitude towards insect-based food is declared by buyers from Sweden and Finland compared to consumers from Germany and the Czech Republic. Consumers from Italy are significantly less likely to choose products containing such proteins than those from northern or western Europe (e.g., Denmark, Belgium).

The culinary culture and dietary habits in northern Europe may have changed in recent decades, while the Italian culinary culture is one of the most established in Europe, with over 200 certified food products, where meat plays an important role – notes the researcher from SWPS University.

Seaweed Takes Over Cosmopolitan Cities

Specific tendencies regarding the acceptance and interest in APF are visible in certain cities.

Differences between large cities and smaller towns in a given country are not so much due to the size of the population, but rather the multicultural and cosmopolitan nature of large agglomerations – comments the researcher.

For example, in cities like Paris or Helsinki, which are more ethnically diverse, there is a higher level of acceptance of APF compared to cities with less ethnic diversity. Consumers from large cities are also more inclined to visit restaurants offering alternative cuisine or introducing new food trends, including alternative protein sources.

A good example is Paris, where the average consumption of seaweed-based APF is higher than in five other French cities. This can be explained by the relatively large population of residents of Asian descent, who often consume such dishes.

Building Consumer Motivation

As the authors of the analysis emphasize, its results can help develop strategies to increase consumer interest in alternative protein sources. Considering different approaches and levels of knowledge about APF in various countries, different promotion strategies can be applied.

Given the low or moderate level of consumption and the declared willingness to purchase APF, it is necessary to develop and implement, for example, promotional campaigns that will enhance consumer motivation. Health benefits, environmental motives, and animal welfare can be highlighted – comments Hanna Zaleśkiewicz.

The study was conducted as part of the international project “LIKE A PRO From niche food to mainstream: alternative protein sources for everyone and everywhere.” Prof. Aleksandra Łuszczyńska leads the project at SWPS University. The project is funded by the European Union under the Horizon Europe program.

[1] Grasso, S., Asioli, D., & Smith, R. (2022). Consumer co-creation of hybrid meat products: A cross-country European survey. Food Quality and Preference, 100, Article 104586.

[2]  FAO (2023). FAOSTAT. Retrieved August 27, 2023, from

[3] Zabrocki, R. (2017). A comparative analysis of the determinants of behaviours of Polish and German consumers aged 55+ in the innovative food market. Handel Wewnętrzny, 1(366), 413–423.

[4] Barska, A. (2014). Attitudes of young consumers towards innovations on the food market. Management, 18(1), 419–431. 0031

[5] Lucas, S., Gouin, S., & Lesueur, M. (2019). Seaweed consumption and label preferences in France. Marine Resource Economics, 34(2), 143–162. 704078

[6] Nevalainen, E., Niva, M., & Vainio, A. (2023). A transition towards plant-based diets on its way? Consumers’ substitutions of meat in their diets in Finland. Food Quality and Preference, 104, Article 104754.

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