Sales of fake or faux meat products rose sharply in Switzerland in 2020, according to figures recently published by Switzerland’s Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG).
Since 2016, the value of meat substitutes sold in Switzerland has more than doubled from CHF 32 million to CHF 72 million. However, it remains niche accounting for only 1.3% of the total sales of real and substitute meat products combined. Plant-based burgers are the most popular product, accounting for one burger in six sold in Swiss supermarkets.
The study defines meat substitutes as any plant-based product designed to look and taste like meat.
After remaining relatively stable between 2016 and 2019, sales of meat-like products rose sharply in 2020 (+82%) from CHF 39 million to CHF 72 million. 65% of households regularly bought these products in 2020. Plant-based burgers were the star riser. Sales of plant-based burgers shot up 228% year on year.
The most likely profile of someone in Switzerland buying meat substitutes is under 50, living in a city with two children and earning over CHF 110,000. They are also a third more likely to be from the German-speaking part of Switzerland.
Swiss shoppers are the third biggest buyers of meat substitutes (0.61 kg per capita p.a.) after British (0.86 kg) and Dutch (0.86 kg) consumers in a comparison of 11 European countries. Swiss consumers paid the highest price (19 euros) per kilogram. The next highest prices were in Germany (14.0) and Belgium (13.7). The cheapest places were Romania (5.3) and the UK (8.8).
The main reason for shifting towards these products is typically concern about the high environmental impact of livestock. Livestock convert a relatively large amount of plant protein into a small amount of animal protein. This inefficiency requires more extensive agriculture, sometimes at the expense of forests and other natural ecosystems. In Switzerland, much of what is fed to animals is imported, leaving the associated environmental destruction out of sight in some other country.
In addition, moving away from animal products towards plants can improve health. The biggest deficiency in many western diets is fibre, something only found in plants. Research on gut bacteria is underlining the importance of consuming plant fibre, something plant-based burgers contain but not meat ones. And, unlike meat burgers, plant-based burgers contain no cholesterol.
Once upon a time, moving to a balanced plant-centred diet was likely to improve health. However, with the explosion of highly processed vegan products, a healthy plant-based diet now requires more careful navigation. The product labels of some plant-based burgers reveal unhealthy ingredients such as high levels of sodium, saturated fat and inflammatory oils. One we checked contained 40% of the daily recommended saturated fat limit in a single serving and another 25%, figures similar to meat burgers.
Some vegan health experts describe processed plant-based meat substitutes as transition products – healthier than meat, but not as healthy as whole plants. If perfecting health is the aim then unprocessed or minimally processed plants are probably a safer bet than highly processed, calorie dense substitute meats high in sodium, saturated fat and unrecognisable ingredients.