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Many meat substitute products not a source of protein

Many meat substitute products not a source of protein

New safefood report reveals one in four vegetarian meat substitute products are not a source of protein

New safefood report reveals one in four vegetarian meat substitute products are not a source of protein
Among people who purchase them, one in three do so “because they’re healthier”
safefood reminds people to check nutrition labels

Dublin, 24th March 2021:  A new research report¹ launched today by safefood has found that one in four (25%) processed vegetarian meat-substitute products like vegetable burgers, sausages and mince are not a source of, or high in protein. The research also found that among those who purchase these products, one in three (34%) did so because they perceived them to be ‘healthy/better for you.’

The safefood research looked at the nutritional content of 354 plant-based meat-substitute products on sale in supermarkets across the island of Ireland. These products included plant-based alternatives such as mince, burgers and sausages, which are positioned in a category of foods that provide protein such as meat, poultry, eggs, fish, nuts and beans.

According to industry reports², vegan is the third fastest growing on-pack claim for food & drink launches globally over the last five years, with sales in the UK of meat-free foods forecasted to be in excess of €1 billion by 2024. Introducing the research, Dr Catherine Conlon, Director of Human Health & Nutrition with safefood said:

“Judging by the number of plant-based meat substitute products now available, there’s clearly a market for these as alternatives to meats, such as beef or chicken. From meat-substitute burgers to sausages and mince, these are now popular choices for many people who want an alternative source of protein in their diet, or want to eat them for ethical or environmental reasons. However, one in four of the products we surveyed were not an adequate source of protein. When we asked people about these products, a third of people thought they were healthy or better for them. However, many of these plant-based products are simply highly processed foods – if you think about it, eating a sausage roll whether that’s plant-based or meat, is still a sausage roll.”

When asked³ about meat-substitute products, more than one in three adults (34%) said they ate plant-based versions of burgers, sausages, chicken or fish. Of those who ate them, 41% said they consumed them once a week or more frequently, while 7% consumed them daily. Almost eight in ten people (79%) who eat meat-substitute products do so once a month or more often.

The top three products were meat alternative burgers (41%), mince (31%) and sausages (29%). The top three reasons for purchasing them were that they were ‘healthy or better for you’ (33%), for taste (21%) and environmental impact (15%).

“There are some positives to these products; some are lower in fat and saturated fat than their meat equivalents while others are a source of fibre. But, if people are considering these as a protein replacement, I would encourage them to check the label. As more people are increasingly choosing a plant-based meat substitute in their diet, we want to understand the reasons for this and the nutritional content of these products” continued Dr Conlon. “The reality is that these are processed foods and a bit of a mixed bag. If you are going to eat them, read the label and look for products that are a good source of protein and lower in saturated fat, sugar and salt. There are lots of protein sources that you can choose from including meat, poultry, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, tofu and chickpeas. Our website has lots of meat-free recipes that you can try”.

The full report¹ “Vegetarian meat substitutes; Products available in supermarkets on the island of Ireland and consumer behaviours and perceptions” can be downloaded from the safefood website. 


For further information or to request an interview, please contact:

Jennifer Gleeson, Wilson Hartnell Mob: +353 87 794 5882
Email: [email protected]


Dermot Moriarty/Ciara O’Connor safefood
Mob: +353 87 437 2080 (Ciara)
Mob: +353 86 381 1034 (Dermot)
[email protected]


“Vegetarian meat substitutes; Products available in supermarkets on the island of Ireland and consumer behaviours and perceptions”; safefood; 2021.

² Mintel 2019

³safetrak 2020 (safefood; Ipsos MRBI November-December 2020). Telephone survey of 800 adults on the island of Ireland.

Editors notes:

A total of 354 plant-based meat alternative products across 12 product categories (e.g. mince, burgers, steaks, etc) were surveyed between April and May 2020. Supermarkets included in the survey were Tesco (ROI and NI), Super Valu, Sainsburys and Asda. As the survey was conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic, only retailers offering online shopping at the time were selected.

The meat alternative products were analysed by examining their nutritional labels and any health claims made on-pack. Any front of pack traffic light labelling was used to classify products as low, medium or high in total fat, saturated fat, sugars, and salt. The nutritional composition of the foods was then compared with their meat-version on, a nutrition analysis software package used to simplify nutrition labelling and food analysis.

Consumer tips

  1. Most of these products should not be used frequently as an alternative to the meat, poultry, fish, eggs, pulses and nuts.
  2. Meat alternatives products can fit into a healthy diet but are still processed/highly processed foods and so consumption should be limited accordingly.
  3. Meat alternatives range in nutritional quality so consumers are advised to read labels and look for products containing sources of protein and micronutrients when possible.
  4. Be aware that plant-based meat-alternatives generally contain more carbohydrates than meat and less calories and so may call for adjustments when using these products to directly replace meat due to their differing nutritional profile.
  5. Include a variety of sources of protein in your diet e.g. meat, eggs, fish, legumes, nuts, and tofu.

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