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PHW presents new Veggie Study

One in two people follow a flexitarian diet or avoid meat entirely / sustainability, animal welfare and health considerations cited as main reasons for meat-free diets / substitute products should be GMO-free and contain no palm oil or flavour enhancers / Poultry most popular meat among flexitarians


Rechterfeld, January 2021. Meat-free burgers, veggie cold cuts and even fish substitute products: ever more companies are offering food products based on alternative protein sources. The PHW Group has been active in this segment since as far back as 2015, before recently making moves to supplement its range with the addition of the Green Legend product line. But just how many people are following meat-free diets? And why do flexitarians, vegetarians and vegans opt to avoid meat in the first place? Moreover, which meat substitute products are the most popular? And what is the key motivation behind purchase decisions here? In its first proprietary representative Veggie Study, the PHW Group examined these questions and, in the true spirit of “Veganuary”, is now presenting the results. The market research institute forsa was commissioned to carry out the study, surveying a total of 1,003 people in Germany between 16-27 November 2020 in the process.


The rise of the flexitarian

In Germany, one in two people (53%) consciously avoid eating meat at least occasionally. For the majority of this group, the key word here is “flexibility”. In total, 44% of respondents would describe their diet as flexitarian, while 8% regard themselves as vegetarian, with vegans comprising just 1% of survey participants.

  • Differences can be observed between the sexes in particular. Among female respondents, around two thirds (63%) go meat-free on at least a partial basis, while the figure drops to 43% among men.
  • Age also plays a role in nutritional behaviour: the proportion of vegans and vegetarians is higher among the younger generations in particular, declining steadily with increasing age. In this context, a total of 14% of respondents aged 18-29 follow a vegetarian diet, with 3% in this age group describing themselves as vegan. However, the percentage of vegetarians among respondents aged 60-75 falls to 5%, while no vegans were recorded within this age group (0%). On the other hand, flexitarianism becomes more popular with advancing age: 35% of survey participants aged 18-29 are flexitarians, while the proportion among respondents aged 60-75 increases to 55%.
  • In regional terms, only minor differences can be discerned. Overall, the distribution is evenly balanced: in the east of the country, both the share of flexitarians (41%) and vegetarians (5%) is lowest, while the equivalent values for Germany’s central region (flexitarians: 46%; vegetarians: 9%; vegans: 1%) and in the south (flexitarians: 45%; vegetarians: 10%; vegans: 1%) are slightly higher.
  • In addition, there is a positive correlation between population size and share of vegetarians: the higher the population of a town or city, the more people that describe themselves as vegetarian (>20,000 inhabitants: 6%; <500,000 inhabitants: 12%). This could provide a helpful hint for food retailers when it comes to arranging their product lines. There is no great urban/rural split for flexitarians (>20,000 inhabitants: 45%; <500,000 inhabitants: 42%).
  • In terms of net household income, there are again at most marginal differences in relation to the avoidance of meat consumption: the share of flexitarians in households with a net income of < EUR 2,000 (40%), between EUR 2,000 and EUR 4,000 (46%) and > EUR 4,000 (41%) is similar. The same can be said of vegans (< EUR 2,000: 3%, EUR 2,000–4,000: 0%, > EUR 4,000: 1%). It is only in the case of vegetarians that we begin to see more striking differences: overall, 14% of households with a net income of < EUR 2,000 described themselves as vegetarians, while this value is 7% in each case for the other two categories.
  • Smaller households with one or two people tend more often to follow a flexitarian diet (44% and 47% respectively) or vegetarian diet (10% and 9% respectively) than large households with four or more people. In fact, flexitarians and vegetarians are on average under-represented in these household sizes, at 37% and 5% respectively.


Meat is off the menu – but why?

“And why is it that you follow a meat-free diet?” – here, too, the PHW Veggie Study has the answers. Over the course of the study, three main motivations become clear: around 60% of respondents cited reasons in connection with sustainability and animal welfare, while health considerations are a key aspect for 49%. Demographics also comes to the fore here: the younger generation of respondents aged 18-29 predominantly mentioned sustainability and environmental protection as their reason for adopting a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle (80%). However, with advancing age, health aspects become more decisive, representing the main motivation for 64% of those respondents aged 60-75. Differences between the sexes were also identified when it comes to reasons for reducing or entirely avoiding meat consumption. Although roughly equal numbers of men and women cited sustainability as a key reason, at 59% and 60% respectively, animal welfare tends to be more of a priority for women (65% vs. 52%), with health considerations being a more important factor for men (55% vs. 45%). Occasionally, a certain form of peer pressure (e.g. encouragement from partners, flatmates or other household members) was cited as a reason for adopting a meat-free diet (15%), with men (23%) and women (9%) unevenly split in offering this justification. Other, less frequently mentioned motivations centred on aspects related to taste (4%), simply not being keen on meat (2%), habit (2%) and price (1%).



Most popular meat substitute products

Proteins are essential nutrients and represent one of the cornerstones of a healthy, balanced diet – and this goes for flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan lifestyles too. Meat substitute products from alternative protein sources seek to mimic the protein content, taste and texture of meat. Half of the surveyed flexitarians, vegetarians and vegans use substitute products in their diet. The most popular of these are tofu (an inexpensive soy milk-based product; 22%), versatile meat-free mince products (20%) and vegetarian cold cuts (18%). Substitute products for schnitzel (14%), burgers (13%), sausages (13%), meatballs (12%) and chicken nuggets (12%), as well as thin strips of Geschnetzeltes-style meat (11%) and bratwurst-style sausages (9%) make up the places behind the top three, with each enjoying similar levels of popularity. These new meat replacement products tend to be particularly favoured among young, female and urban demographics. In order to cover protein requirements without turning to substitute products, flexitarians, vegetarians and vegans mostly opt for plant-based protein sources including potatoes (77%), nuts and seeds (77%) or rice (63%), products which actually tend to be more popular among older sections of the population. These are followed by peas (49%), wheat (30%), corn (27%), soya (23%), mushrooms (18%) and broad beans (13%), which more often than not tend to be chosen by younger respondents (with the exception of mushrooms). At 38% among younger respondents and 44% among those that identify as vegan or vegetarian, soya is a particular favourite as a regular source of protein. In terms of the flexitarians, soya’s popularity as the preferred protein source declines to just 18%. This group prefers potatoes (79%), nuts and seeds (76%) or rice (65%), as well as peas (47%). When flexitarians do decide to put meat back on the menu, they mostly go for poultry (78%), followed by fish (70%), beef (68%), pork (45%) and lamb (26%).


It all comes down to the ingredients

When it comes to eating meat alternatives, consumers are above all guided by the maxim: “Not all meat substitutes are created equally”. It is at least important for around three quarters of the respondents (72%) that these products are made without any genetic modification (GM-free). Following closely behind and registering similar values are aspects such as avoiding the use of palm oil (very important: 33%; important: 35%) or flavour enhancers (very important: 37%; important: 29%). More than one quarter (26%) of respondents are of the view that it is either very important or important when it comes to their purchase decision that meat substitute products are completely vegan, i.e. they contain absolutely no traces of animal parts. This would even include eggs, for example. For approximately one third of both respondents in the south of Germany (32%) and those aged 18-29 (34%), this aspect also plays an important role, while total exclusion of animal parts is paramount for a majority of vegetarians and vegans (79%). Just under one fifth of all survey respondents (19%) would prefer meat substitute products not to contain soya. This is a view shared above all by the older generations (28%), rural respondents (28%) as well as respondents in the south of Germany (27%). Gluten-free products are likewise a very important or important consideration for 14% of respondents, while this aspect is important or even very important for around one quarter of older survey participants (24%).


NB: not all answer options to the questions posed have been included/evaluated in the Veggie Study. In some cases, the interpretations relate to the most frequent and least frequent answers. If you are interested, please get in contact with us for the complete answer options. Please also note the information graphics provided.  


*The PHW Group commissioned the market research institute forsa to carry out this survey. In total, 1,003 people in Germany aged 18-75 were interviewed for the study. The survey was conducted between 16-27 November 2020.


Further details on the PHW Group and the Green Legend product range can be found at: /

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