The results of a new study by the Hellenic Vegetarian Union (HellasVeg) suggest that Greeks’ meat consumption is the highest among eleven European countries.
More specifically, more than seven out of ten consumers (73 percent) declare that they consume up to 3.3 kilograms of meat per month. Yet, almost one in two Greeks (49 percent) wishes to reduce that consumption.
Greeks also appear open to the possibility of trying cell-cultured meat (at 49 percent) as well as food that utilizes protein from insects (26 percent).
Meat eaters agree vegetarianism important for animals
In addition, more than eight in ten meat eaters (82 percent) agree that there are good reasons to become a vegetarian. The most important is the improvement of the treatment of animals followed by health and the environment.
In this context, flexitarians—consumers who follow a flexible diet with reduced meat consumption—appear as “frontrunners” in the area of plant-based foods. These consumers are most commonly observed in the ages over forty-five years old (55.7 percent).
Nevertheless, when flexitarians were asked about the consumption of alternative plant-based foods, they did point out their distrust towards these products. The main reasons they do not prefer them are, as they state, the high price (35 percent), the fact that they are tasteless (21 percent), limited availability of options (21 percent), and health concerns (14 percent).
The above results were derived from a study on a sample of seven hundred respondents aged eighteen to seventy years old. The study was carried out in June and co-financed by the Hellenic Vegetarian Union (HellasVeg) and the European Vegetarian Union (EVU). The primary research was carried out by Kantar SA, and the statistical analysis was conducted by HellasVeg.
Greeks eat meat more than the average European
The new study suggests that Greeks’ meat and dairy consumption is more frequent than the average European but that they also eat eggs and seafood about as often.
Flexitarians consume 900 to 1,500 grams of meat monthly while omnivores consume more than double the amount (2250 to 3,350 grams).
Focusing their analysis on responses indicating meat consumption from zero to three times a month, the researchers concluded that only 7 percent consume meat less than once a week. Moreover, only 5 percent consume dairy with the same frequency. The respective percentages for Europeans are 29 percent and 18 percent.
Most meat eaters are found on the Greek islands
The largest part of flexitarian consumers is found in Athens. The smallest is found on the Greek islands. In Athens and mainland Greece, 3 percent also declare themselves vegan or vegetarian. This percentage is nearly zero on the islands.
That distribution can be explained by the availability of products and the access to more options, including plant-based foods and alternative products, in urban areas. Residents in Athens, for example, have easier access to these products. In contrast, access on the islands to such products is harder to come by.
This fact could explain why the percentage of meat consumption is remarkably high on the Greek islands.
Vegetarianism expected to rise in Greece
The President of the Greek Association of Vegetarians, Suzana Isaakidou, points out that vegetarianism is expected to increase significantly in Greece in the next few years, “building” on a trend that was strengthened during the pandemic.
“In the last two years, with the pandemic—which led more people to a healthy diet—and the climate crisis, which has highlighted intensive animal husbandry as one of the important reasons for environmental burden,…a dynamic trend [was created] for the development of vegetarianism in Greece as well,” Isaakidou reported.
“Additionally, the desire and demand of the younger generations for fairer treatment of animals will contribute to [the] increase [of vegetarianism],” Isaakidou predicted. “So when the conditions are created for plant-based products to become more attractive to consumers, then we will see the trend of vegetarianism developing rapidly.”
Ways plant based products can become more attractive for Greeks
Thomas Vassaras, representative of the company V-Label, which to date has certified more than six hundred products suitable to vegetarians and vegans from around one hundred businesses in Greece, says that the industry needs to move in three directions.
First and foremost, Greece has to improve plant-based products so that they appeal to a larger proportion of consumers, which many companies are already achieving.
“Greek companies carry out research and development, [and] they have the powerful weapon of Mediterranean flavors, while due to their small size and mentality, they also have the flexibility to quickly produce differentiated products on behalf of their foreign customers,” said Vassaras. “They also carry out exports. It is indicative that a Greek company is currently included in the top ten companies with the largest market shares in the US in terms of vegan cheese.”
Secondly, he adds, there is a need to ensure wider availability of these products. This can be achieved by “unlocking” more of the food distribution networks, which are mainly supermarkets and street markets. Today, a small percentage of certified plant based products have access to these networks.
Finally, Vassaras stresses that the industry needs to provide more attractive prices. Prices can be made more affordable through achieving economies of scale. This, in turn, requires greater access to distribution networks, as high turnovers create conditions for lower production costs—and, therefore, the possibility of lower prices. However, the opportunity is also obvious for companies that are traditionally active in the meat sector, which are now “putting” plant-based products on the market.