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How has the discussion about flexitarian diets changed?

noun – a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet, but occasionally eats meat or fish.

The flexitarian diet is quickly catching on, and for good reason. According to a report published by Packaged Facts, 36% of consumers identify themselves as flexitarian. As the tide of opinion turns toward a more plant-based diet, it’s clear that flexitarianism is the way millions will be eating in the future.

To understand how opinions around flexitarian diets have changed over the past year, we turned to language comparison. Firstly, we collected a sample of forum discussions that included the keywords vegetarian, eat less meat and flexitarian. Our methodology enabled us to capture people’s wider perceptions around eating less meat, rather than merely analysing the discourse around vegetarianism. This raw language data was uploaded into Relative Insight’s text analysis platform, and split into date ranges to create two data sets: 2020 and 2021. Then we applied the comparison.

Relative Insight pinpoints the statistically significant differences and similarities in topics, phrases, words, grammar and emotions between language sets. Time based comparisons help us understand where the conversation is currently at, in comparison to previous periods. This way, we can truly understand how an audience’s opinions and feelings fluctuate.

Flexitarian diets in 2020

2020 will forever be remembered as the year that coronavirus plagued the world. We even saw corona infiltrate the forum conversations around flexitarian diets in 2020. The outbreak of coronavirus, and the subsequent questions of where it the virus came from, raised the public’s awareness of the fact that diseases and viruses can be spread by eating meat.

insight card on how forums users feel meat diets can cause disease

Health was understandably an enormous concern for forum users in 2020 – potentially because the topic had become ingrained in our subconscious. During this time period, people were 3.6x more likely to debate whether or not vegetarian diets were optimal for human health. Forum users discussed various diseases and diagnoses (such as coeliac and anaemia) that meant strict vegetarian or vegan diets were unviable. Whereas a flexitarian diet offered a realistic approach to eating less meat but staying healthy.   

insight card on how forums users discuss flexitarian as the optimal diet for health

Flexitarian diets in 2021

In contrast, the 2021 conversation on flexitarian diets is much more food-centric. People are 3.9x more likely to suggest that eating less meat is now easier because of the wide variety of vegetarian alternatives. While fake meat and alternatives are nothing new, the uplift in people adopting a flexitarian lifestyle has led to more retailers stocking plant-based foods. Alternatives remove any intimidation about a vegetarian diet. They give people the option to eat flexi by simply substituting meat with a veggie replacement.

Our analysis also uncovered that lab grown meat is an emerging theme of 2021. Lab grown meat is essentially meat that is created in bioreactors without the slaughter of animals. Forum users were 6.6x more likely to talk about what this innovation in science could mean for vegetarians, especially those who follow the diet for ethical reasoning.  It’s clear that there could be a market here.

insight card on how forums users feel about lab grown meat

A final insight we uncovered through comparison was that in 2021, people who are discussing flexitarian or vegetarian diets feel more connected to life. Forum users are also 2.3x more likely to talk about their impact on the environment and the world around them, as a result of eating less meat. This highlights an important shift in consumer mindset, which suggests people are becoming more aware of the importance of individual action.

insight card on how forums users feel connected through vegetarianism

Time based comparisons are extremely useful to gauge consumer opinion. However, what’s fascinating to see is how the conversations around flexitarian diets have changed so drastically in such a short space of time. The 2020 conversation was the rooted in health, whereas in 2021, advancements of science and food alternatives take centre stage. The point is: the conversation is continuously shifting.

As flexitarian diets continue to gain popularity, its vital that health and wellness brands, retailers, the hospitality industry and agencies are keeping their finger on the pulse. Relative Insight enables you to do just that, turning language data into powerful insights. Speak to our team to find out more.

Don’t miss our next webinar that investigates the ever-changing discourse around sustainability. This special session features speakers who will discuss the fact that we’re now living in a time when having no opinion on sustainability is often more damaging for a brand or business than having the wrong opinion

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